A drastic reduction in the number of seniors languishing in city hospitals while awaiting placement in personal care homes has had a positive effect on the system, leading to a reduction in emergency room wait times.

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A drastic reduction in the number of seniors languishing in city hospitals while awaiting placement in personal care homes has had a positive effect on the system, leading to a reduction in emergency room wait times.

A year ago, there were 78 people occupying Winnipeg hospital beds because there was no spot available in a nursing home.

The number has exceeded 100 from time to time in recent years.

But at last count, there were only nine, a senior official with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said on Friday.

"I have never seen the number as low as it is," said Lori Lamont, the WRHA’s acting chief operating officer, with 25 years’ experience in the health-care system.

It’s not that a bunch of new personal-care home spaces have come open during the past year.

Rather, the health system has found new ways — with the onset of hospital reforms last fall — to ease frail and ill patients back home or into less expensive beds.

The effect on Winnipeg’s hospitals has been significant, Lamont said.

ER waits have improved over last year, and the increased acute-care bed capacity has helped the local health system weather an early and particularly nasty flu season that led to the postponement of dozens of non-emergency surgeries.

The WRHA released statistics on Friday that show the median wait for service in Winnipeg ERs and urgent-care centres fell to 1.5 hours from 1.8 hours from Oct. 4 to Jan. 2, when compared with the same period a year earlier. The time in which 90 per cent of patients received service dropped to 4.05 hours from 4.87 hours through the same three-month period.

Lamont said at a news conference that a greater availability for acute-care hospital beds has had a ripple effect throughout the system.

It meant, for instance, that fewer admitted patients were clogging ER areas.

That made it easier to treat ER patients faster.

The reduction in PCH-bound patients occupying prime hospital beds came from increasing resources to help elderly hospital patients transition back to home care.

So-called semi-acute hospital beds for patients who need extra recovery time were concentrated at Victoria hospital rather than being spread less efficiently throughout the system, Lamont said.

At the same time, 65 new transition beds were added, with a goal of getting patients into a situation where they could live independently with home-care support.

A new initiative to rapidly dispatch nurses to assist medically complex patients to return home safely from hospital also played a role.

The huge drop in the number of hospital patients awaiting personal-care home placement has been especially precipitous since October, when some of the hospital reorganization reforms started taking effect.

The WRHA executive also admitted at a news conference that the reduction was also the result of a new mindset among health officials.

She said the new "home first" philosophy has also been instilled in patients and their families, with the promise that necessary services will be available for them.

Lamont noted a study released last year by the Canadian Institute for Health Information estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of long-term care residents don’t need to be in these institutions and that the decision to place patients in nursing homes often is arrived at prematurely.

The government-driven consolidation effort has focused Winnipeg hospitals to work more efficiently as a system, Lamont said.

She said the WRHA is better able to identify pressure points in the system, locate places with more capacity and move patients as necessary between hospitals.

"We no longer have hospitals trying to manage independently, making decisions that may work for them, but (that) don’t alleviate some of the pressures on the system," she said.

NDP health critic Andrew Swan said he wasn’t convinced ERs have seen much of a reduction in wait times.

"There are different ways to count wait times. I can pull out my phone and tell you there’s a wait of six hours and 15 minutes at Concordia Hospital," he said, referring to a check he made Friday afternoon, just before meeting with reporters.

Swan said the health authority "appears to be under direction to sift through the data and cherry-pick the things that they think are going to show positive outcomes."

He also brought up the fact that the WRHA was found this week by a media outlet to have posted erroneous wait times information on its website.

The health authority quickly corrected the error and apologized.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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