Three out of 8 people who go to city ERs don’t need it, CEO says
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Hiring more hospital staff is the No. 1 priority for health-care administrators, who are trying to reduce long ER wait times by pointing Winnipeggers toward walk-in clinics.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority chief executive officer Mike Nader and Health Sciences Centre chief operating officer Dr. Shawn Young gave a virtual presentation to reporters Thursday that confirms what they and most health-care workers and patients have long known: wait times at emergency departments and urgent care centres are getting longer, patients are getting sicker, and experienced nurses are in extremely short supply.
Most Winnipeg patients wait eight hours, and waits are getting longer over time. Across all city ERs and urgent care centres, the 90th percentile wait time was 8.02 hours in August, an increase compared with 7.07 hours in August 2021.
“Wait times across the region continue to be higher than anyone wants them to be,” Nader said.
They presented an estimate stating 300 out of an average 800 daily ER/urgent care patients don’t need emergency treatment.
The presentation didn’t include staffing data, but Nader and Young said vacancy rates are roughly 20 per cent at all Winnipeg hospitals and urgent care centres, which amounts to “several hundred” vacant nursing positions at HSC alone, Young said.
“Even though it’s not a metric we were necessarily discussing today, you fix staffing, all the rest will follow suit,” Young said.
Part of the solution to long waits, Nader and Young said, is for more patients to go to walk-in clinics instead of the ER — where most Winnipeggers will have to wait eight hours, on average, to be assessed. The WRHA and Shared Health are directing patients to websites that show walk-in wait times (myrightcare.ca and medimap.ca), saying it’ll be faster for most people to go to a clinic.
In August, wait times increased, as did the rate of urgently ill patients who showed up at ERs and urgent care centres, although overall patient volume rose only slightly since the same time last year.
More patients leave without being seen by a doctor — most commonly at HSC, where the unseen rate is highest in the city at about 30 per cent.Tthose who are assessed as needing hospital admission wait slightly longer for a bed. Admitted patients face a median wait of more than 20 hours in the ER until a bed opens and they can be transferred to a ward.
Part of the problem, Nader and Young said, is that many people waiting in the ER could get medical care elsewhere.
Shared Health’s estimate that 300 daily ER visits could instead be dealt with at doctors’ offices and clinics is based on how the patients are assessed when they’re triaged.
The number includes patients categorized as less urgent and non-urgent, but it doesn’t include additional context such as what time of day or night they showed up to the ER, or whether they have a family doctor.
Nader said they hadn’t done that analysis, but acknowledged it is more likely that less urgent patients show up to the ER when clinics are closed. However, they will end up waiting the longest.
Nader said it’s understandable people “go where (they) know” but wants to encourage them to go to clinics instead.
“The last thing we want is for people to have to experience waiting for an enormous number of hours to be seen and receive the care that they need,” Nader said.
“It’s distressing for us and it’s distressing for the teams of health-care professionals to see so many people waiting and in need of care, and it crowds and complicates the emergency and urgent care departments.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, October 3, 2022 1:45 PM CDT: Adds more context on wait time stats