Winnipeg Sun: ER wait times up 18% at Grace Hospital

Aug 21, 2018

It’s not the number government officials were hoping to see three months after cutting the ribbon at Grace Hospital’s new “state-of-the-art” emergency department.

Instead of wait times dropping at the larger and vastly improved $43.8-million ER, they’ve been slowly inching up again.

The provincial government unveiled the new ER in May, touting it as one of the keys to reducing wait times across the city. The new ER, five times the size of the one it replaced, includes more assessment and treatment rooms, greater laboratory and X-ray capacity and an expanded ambulance bay to reduce patient off-load times.

The Grace ER will be one of only three operating in the city after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s hospital consolidation plan is fully implemented next year.

“It will shorten wait times, it will ensure that Manitobans receive the care they need where they need it when they need it,” Premier Brian Pallister boasted at a May 24 press conference.

But according to fresh data released by the WRHA, ER wait times continue to climb at the Grace and they’re growing at most other city hospitals, too.

The median wait time for ER patients to be seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner at the Grace was 1.93 hours in July. That’s up 18% from the 1.63-hour wait for the same month last year. And it’s higher than the wait time of 1.5 hours in October when the WRHA closed Misericordia Urgent Care Centre and turned the ER at Victoria Hospital into an urgent care centre.

Neither are significant increases. But after enjoying some success in reducing ER wait times in 2016 and 2017, the trend is now going in the opposite direction.

The median ER wait time for all hospitals was 1.6 hours in July, up from 1.41 hours for the same month in 2017, and higher than the 1.35-hour wait in October. The WRHA said Monday the longer wait times are due largely to higher acuity patients and growing patient volumes, as well as staffing shortages at the Grace.

The growing delays are bad news for a region already saddled with among the longest ER wait times in the country, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Even with the modest gains made last year – ER wait times dropped 16% in 2017-18 compared to the previous year – the WRHA is nowhere near reaching the national average of 1.1 hours, a target health authority officials say they’re still committed to achieving.

“In the short-term we are focused on reaching the Canadian average for emergency department wait times,” WRHA interim CEO Real Cloutier said in May. “And we know by implementing these changes we are building a system that can surpass the national average and provide better care to patients who depend on us.”

Perhaps. But there’s little to no sign of it yet.

The province is now well over a year into its hospital consolidation plan – it was launched in April 2017 – but the wait time needle hasn’t moved much, if at all. Depending on what months are measured, wait times have either fallen somewhat, climbed slightly or have remained largely unchanged. More recently, they’ve been inching up again.

Part of the reason for that is while increasing the size of Grace’s ER is helpful in some areas of patient care, it still doesn’t solve the hospital bed shortage that plagues the system on many days.

When there are no beds available on medical wards for admitted ER patients, the system backs up in emergency rooms and wait times increase.

The WRHA is tackling that on a number of fronts, from improved bed management computer software to the creation of more sub-acute beds for less ill patients. The consolidation plan, which will include closing ERs at Concordia and Seven Oaks hospitals, is designed to pool resources and concentrate specialized care at fewer sites to get patients through the system quicker. At least that’s the plan on paper.

So far, though, it’s proving to be a lot more difficult in practice.

Emergency room median wait times

By Winnipeg hospital (In hours)

July 2018 (July 2017 in brackets)

Concordia 1.60 (1.43)

Grace 2.10 (1.70)

Health Sciences Centre 1.72 (1.77)

Children’s (HSC) 1.10 (0.88)

Seven Oaks 1.48 (1.07)

St. Boniface 1.78 (2.02)

Victoria Urgent Care 1.62 (1.50)

All hospitals 1.60 (1.41)

– Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Monthly Wait

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