Concerns raised over emergency department wait times, especially at Alberta Children’s Hospital

Seeing a doctor in the emergency department is taking longer than usual at most Calgary hospitals, according to some Calgary area families and internal data from Alberta Health Services.

Wait times to be admitted to Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) appear to be the highest.

According to internal data collected by Alberta Health Services (AHS) between the week of May 8 – 14, 50 per cent of total visits to ACH were admitted after an eight-hour wait and 40 per cent of visits were discharged within four hours.

In the same time last year, both those rates were closer to 70 per cent, which means more patients are in ER waiting rooms waiting longer compared to a year ago.

CALGARY-AREA FAMILES STRUGGLE

Graham Mack and his 15-year-old son Ethan came to ACH Monday night for a shoulder injury from playing lacrosse.

He says triage took over two hours, then the posted wait time to see a doctor was eight hours.

“I don’t really think it’s acceptable. I don’t think it’s acceptable for anyone to be waiting 12 or 15 hours, but especially kids,” said Mack.

He took Ethan home to sleep, then to urgent care in Okotoks the following morning. Doctors there quickly looked at his son’s shoulder x-ray images and determined his son would need a sling and a visit to a sports medicine clinic.

Rory Woodburne has visited the emergency department with two of his daughters recently.

Last month his 15-year-old was able to see a doctor within one hour, a few months earlier his eight-year-old had to wait three hours.

“I’ve had both experiences, a long wait and a short wait,” he said.

The Airdrie parent said his concern was about the pace of triage at children’s hospital.

“I don’t know what the solution is, maybe get more staff, so you can go through triage a lot quicker.”

Betson Philip says his four-year-old daughter’s breathing became concerning Tuesday night.

When he checked online for the wait times at ACH for 6:00 a.m. Wednesday morning the posted wait was 9.5 hours. He decided to wait in hopes her condition would improve in the morning.

“(But) she got more sick. I called 911 then the ambulance came,” and transported his child from Chestermere to ACH.

“She’s getting good care, the only issue is the wait,” said Philip.

He told CTV News Wednesday afternoon his daughter was seeing a doctor and he’s grateful for the healthcare staff.

EMERGENCY MEDICINE STRAPPED  

Emergency medical professionals say emergency departments across the province are struggling, especially paediatric patients.

“Children are waiting at our emergency departments like 60 or 90 minutes sometimes just to triage,” said Dr. Paul Parks, president of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association.

Parks said signs of a health system in trouble are most prominent in Alberta E.R.’s.

“We are the safety net of the system. So we can’t say no, we can’t turn patients away.”

Parks added that hospitals continue to face staffing shortages, and the healthcare workers on shift are often over worked.

The department head of emergency medicine at University of Calgary and AHS Calgary Zone said recently beds in the emergency department are 90 per cent full with patients that should be admitted to other departments.

He added that beds “upstairs” in Alberta hospitals need to be added, along with relevant staff to support them.

“We are very busy and to some degree (we are) drowning with admitted patients who have no place to go,” said Dr. Eddy Lang.

He adds that more mental health patients are also spending days in the E.R. before a bed in the appropriate department becomes available.

AHS SAYS WORK UNDERWAY

AHS told CTV News in an emailed statement Wednesday that  Alberta’s healthcare system is seeing a spike just like other regions around the world.

It added that emergency departments are experiencing “high volumes of seriously ill patients and the impact of COVID-19, which includes an increased number of patients requiring hospitalization, limited admissions to some hospital units due to infection control requirements, and increased staff absences.”

It added that other flu-like viruses are spreading fast, which patients may have deferred care for over the past two years, and some influxes are typical at the end of the winter season.

“Albertans should be assured they will receive the care they need,” it read.

It continued,  saying “while AHS continues to add employees, we know our staff are tired after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. They continue to go above and beyond to care and support Albertans.

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the best way to protect our hospitals is for people to follow public health guidelines, stay home when sick, and most importantly, get immunized (including a booster).”

HEALTH SPENDING UP

Steve Buick, spokesperson for the Health Minister Jason Copping told CTV News the Health Budget has been increased by $600 million this year.

“We’re spending more than the NDP ever did, adding capacity across the system and building up the workforce, in spite of the strain of the pandemic,” he said in an email.

Buick also pointed out that work is underway to address human resource challenges and to hire addition healthcare workers.

“AHS has filled 250 positions to staff the first 19 new permanent ICU beds, out of 50 we funded in Budget 2022.”

He said there are 1,800 more registered nurses working today than before the onset of the COVID-19, and added 90 per cent of the most recent grads have been hired in the past year.

Buick also sayid according to StatsCanada, overall employment in the health and social assistance sector in Alberta is up by 51,000 in the past four years, from 266,000 in April 2018 to 317,000 last month.

ACTION DEMANDED

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd held a media conference outside ACH on Wednesday morning, and said the current UCP government needs to act fast.

“We’ve never had a government that’s been as antagonistic towards doctors and driven them out of the province,” he said before adding, “Frankly this government has created this situation.”

Graham Mack has written letters describing his son’s ordeal to both his UCP MLA Doug Schweitzer and to Shepherd’s office.

He said he wants solutions to be reached without political games for the sake of kids like his.

“It should be everybody at the table and trying to figure out a way to improve it,” said Mack.

 

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