Emergency department wait times continue to rise at local hospitals

WELLINGTON CTY. – Emergency department wait times at three Wellington County hospitals have increased over the last two years, according to a recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Released on Nov. 29, the 2017-18 Your Health System Report indicates the average wait time to see a physician in the emergency department (ED) at Groves hospital in Fergus is 3.7 hours, up slightly from 3.5 hours two years ago.

The provincial average for small community hospitals is 2.5 hours, while the average wait time across the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) is four hours.

Once seen by a doctor, Groves patients wait approximately 29.7 hours for an inpatient bed, if required, the report found.

That is significantly higher than both the provincial average for small community hospitals (16.5 hours) and the average across the local LHIN (23).

According to Groves and North Wellington Health Care (NWHC) president and CEO Stephen Street, the results are driven by the number of patients waiting in inpatient beds for either a long-term care bed or to be discharged.

The availability of inpatient beds is directly related to the amount of time people wait to see a physician in the ED, said Street, who noted  hospitals across the province face the same issue.

“These results do not surprise us right now,” he said.

“We’ve been tracking these on a monthly basis and the trends for some months have been higher than even what these figures are.”

At NWHC hospitals,  Palmerston and District Hospital and Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest,  the report found the initial wait time in the ED is 2.3 hours, up from 1.9 hours in 2015-16.

The total time spent in NWHC EDs waiting for an inpatient bed is 10.5 hours.

“I would say the North Wellington results are better in terms of access because we have two emergency departments up there that are combined … Louise Marshall has exceeded 100% [occupancy] a couple times but Palmerston has not,” Street said.

“There is less demand for overall services in the north but they, too, are getting busier.”

The CIHI data looks at access to care, quality of care, spending, health promotion and disease prevention, and health outcomes, stated CIHI project lead Zeerak Chaudhary in an email to the Advertiser.

She added the CIHI report notes large disparities like Groves’ waiting time averages “may require further investigation.”

“Especially in the case… where an organization is deemed to be performing below average, it is important for the organization to review their data, practices and processes to understand the sources or reasons for their result,” said Chaudhary.

With information from hospitals and long-term care facilities, in addition to research centers and government agencies across Canada, the report’s ability to offer a direct comparison to other hospitals makes it useful, said Chaudhary.

She noted that is the exact reason the report was first released in November 2013.

Already Groves and NWHC hospitals are looking for ways to lower wait times, with support from the provincial government.

“It’s a pretty complex issue and there are some things that are within the hospital’s control, but many of the things are a health system problem,” said Street.

“That is why the LHIN and the provincial government is looking at solutions, because every hospital is seeing these trends.”

The report includes data taken from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

Since that time, Groves has scheduled additional nursing staff to help with the increased volume, said Street.

In April the Ontario government also announced it would provide funding for 5,000 beds across the province by 2022.

“As those long-term care beds open up, it frees up additional spaces for patients to move,” Street explained.

“The wait time for long-term care … even in Wellington County, can be multiple years at times, so it does speak to the capacity issues that we are all facing.”

For the full CIHI report visit yourhealthsystem.cihi.ca.