Patients are waiting longer in emergency departments, report says


It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but according to the latest report Sturgeon Hospital has only gotten worse when it comes to wait times.

The report, compiled by the Health Quality Council of Alberta, showed that on average patients waited under 2.2 hours from entering the emergency department to seeing a doctor.

“Like most sites, Sturgeon Hospital appears to be trending upward on the number of patients waiting in the emergency department for a hospital bed,” said Andrew Neuner, CEO of the council.

From January to March wait times sat at an average of 1.9 hours. Neuner said wait times could have increased due to the hospital’s proximity to Edmonton.

He said that it could also be an indicator of primary care networks and community services available for patients.

In March Alberta Health released a community profile on St. Albert. While the rate was lower than the Alberta average, the report indicated people were visiting the emergency department when they could have been seeing a family doctor.

Emergency department visits were the highest between 9 and 10 a.m. on weekdays, with an average of 93 visits reported during that hour on a regular weekday.

In order to tackle this issue, the council will launch a new FOCUS report looking into primary care networks across the province. The report will indicate if people are using the emergency department because of limited access to physicians, inadequate community services or if people are using the emergency department due to lack of knowledge about their condition.

“We hope to have that out in the new year so we can make those comparisons,” he said. “It will measure 20 to 25 different things that are important in primary care.”

Dr. David Sheps, facility medical director and orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, said Edmonton has a lot to do with the burden on the local emergency department.

“The Sturgeon has a lot of programs that are specific to it,” he said. “We have an upper extremity orthopaedic program, so we help deliver upper extremity care for Edmonton and the northern part of the province.”

He said only around 35 per cent of patients come from St. Albert. The majority comes to the hospital from Edmonton and the surrounding region.

“The population that we serve would be a lot bigger than Lethbridge or Medicine Hat,” he said.

In order to address long wait times he says the department is looking at their processing methods to improve how quickly patients get in to see doctors and how quickly they’re released.

Emergency wait times

According to the report, Red Deer Regional Hospital came in second next to Sturgeon Hospital for longest wait time. The average wait time was under 1.4 hours from April to June.

Of the six medium-urban hospitals, Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray had the shortest average wait time of under 0.7 hours from April to June.

Medicine Hat Regional Hospital had the second-lowest wait time with an average of under 0.9 hours from April to June.

Neuner said the council began the report as a way to paint a complete picture of health care in emergency departments.

“It was in our view that there is so much data out there, but in and of itself, it doesn’t really tell a story,” he said. “What we’ve attempted to do is take measures that are about cost and about outcome and about patient experience and try to put that together into one location.”

He said that looking at one indicator alone, such as wait times in the emergency department, isn’t enough to determine how well the hospital is meeting the health care needs of the community.

As an example, Sturgeon Hospital scored equal with Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in overall care.

Sturgeon, which has the longest wait times, scored 84 out of 100 – the same score as Northern Lights, which had the shortest emergency department wait times. Both departments tied for highest in overall care among medium-urban hospitals in Alberta.

Sheps said doctors at Sturgeon Hospital focus on patient-centred care.

“I personally take a customer service perspective to the way I deal with patients and I want that experience from the moment that they meet me to the moment I discharge them from my care,” he said.

The report said Sturgeon Hospital was rated the highest when it came to staff introductions. From April to June doctors had introduced themselves to patients 87.4 per cent of the time.

The hospital also scored highest when it came to overall patient experience with emergency department communication. Surveyed patients rated communication with doctors 96 out of 100 from April to June.

Sturgeon Hospital had the lowest wait times for X-ray completion and the lowest time to wait for a specialist and doctor’s opinion on care.

This is the second quarterly report the council has put together since launching this year. Information on emergency departments is provided to the council by Alberta Health Services and is updated every 90 days. For more information visit





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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.