Long emergency wait times at hospitals are ‘solvable’: Edmonton ER doctor

Double-digit emergency wait times at some Edmonton hospitals continue to shock patients but at least one doctor believes this is an issue that can be solve

Overnight Tuesday, the Alberta Health Services emergency department wait time online tracker showed waits at Edmonton’s Grey Nuns and Misericordia Community Hospitals exceeding 10 hours.

David Makokis was waiting at the University of Hospital ER for about 11 hours before staff were able to x-ray his facial injury. He said he arrived at 11 p.m. Tuesday and was offered pain medication at about 7 a.m.

“It was crazy. It was just nuts,” he said. “I was just in there. I just got Tylenol a little bit ago. It’s just not efficient at all. Just kind of wasted time. They didn’t check on me. Didn’t even ask about pain until about seven this morning.”

According to an Alberta Health Services spokesperson, the respiratory virus season is putting pressure on acute care facilities.

“There may be times when admission to a ward or unit is delayed due to occupancy pressures, however no patients are turned away and care continues to be provided,” Kerry Williamson said in an email. “As always, the sickest patients will be given priority.”

Click to play video: Doctors say 2 Edmonton hospitals at 150% capacity, very long ER waits

Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, an emergency physician at Royal Alexandra Hospital, said there’s a lot of strain on the system but that everyone who stays will be seen.

“This is a bit of a crisis. I know people are upset waiting. If you’re going to go to emergency, just be prepared. You’re going to wait. Try calling 811. They might have good advice for you otherwise.”

This time of year can be challenging, said Francescutti, with respiratory virus season, more vehicle collisions due to bad weather and frostbite.

“Ask yourself: What can I do today to stay out of the emergency department? It’s pretty simple. Stop smoking. Don’t drink as much as you do. Wear a seatbelt. Don’t speed. Get immunized. Get regularly screened for sexually transmitted diseases, eat healthy and sleep well.”

For older Albertans, Francescutti recommends immunization for RSV, flu, COVID, shingles and pneumococcal.

Click to play video: Cold, flu and COVID season sending more people for vaccines at Alberta pharmacies

“There’s more volume (in ERs), but you’ve got to remember as well, the population’s increased and the population is getting older. So those are things you would expect.
I’d much rather focus on: Are there solutions to the problem? And there are solutions.”

He says Edmonton hospitals have significant numbers of patients upstairs on wards with nowhere to go.

“They don’t have to be in the hospital… We need to immediately build facilities to move those patients out,” he said, to free up space for emergency patients. “Anybody can come and nobody is turned away. What we have to do is look at our system and say: how can we improve the flow of patients?

Click to play video: Edmonton doctor says ER patients leaving due to long wait times

Francescutti says the health system has to get creative.

“There are programs that are making a big difference. One that I’m involved with is called Bridge Healing, where patients that are experiencing homelessness in the emergency department — we know use the emergency department far more — but we’re now offering them the opportunity to get housed immediately. We’ve got 36 beds through Bridge Healing and Jasper Place Wellness Centre and that’s working really well. What we’re finding is those patients don’t come back to emergency department again. We need to increase capacity for programs like that,” he said.

“It’s a solvable problem if we want to solve it.”

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