Wait times on the rise at Sturgeon hospital: report

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Local patients are waiting longer in the emergency department to get an initial doctor’s assessment and to be admitted to a bed, new data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows.

Sturgeon Community Hospital was ranked third place among hospitals in Alberta for longest wait time to get admitted to a hospital bed, and was tied in third place for longest wait time for an initial doctor’s assessment.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released the report, which analyzed health system performance in emergency departments across Canada.

It showed that 90 per cent of patients admitted into Sturgeon hospital’s emergency department waited an average of 53.4 hours to get a bed last year, up from 51.5 hours the year before.

Patients also waited an average of 3.7 hours for an initial doctor’s assessment, up from 3.6 hours the year before.

Curtis Johnston, facility medical director for Sturgeon hospital, said emergency department wait times is a complex issue that involves both the emergency department’s internal processes and how often patients are coming into the hospital.

“I can tell you that [the staff]at the hospital is extremely committed to trying to improve the numbers,” he said. “It just seems that it’s a pretty tough problem, a very complicated problem.”

He said hospitals across the Edmonton zone are facing similar circumstances.

Ninety per cent of patients in emergency departments in Edmonton waited an average of 38.1 hours for a bed, and waited 3.6 hours for an initial doctor’s assessment.

Kira Leeb, director of health system performance at the Canadian Institute for Health Information, said after the findings were released the institute looked further into the results and found that more seniors are being admitted into emergency departments across Alberta.

“Those patients are typically more complex patients. They also require medical beds as opposed to surgical beds,” she said. “So if hospitals have patients who are spending longer in medical beds and not being discharged in a timely way, then those patients who need to come into beds, those beds aren’t available for them.”

She added that wait times increased after 9 p.m. and on weekends, which could be the result of staffing models put in place by the emergency department.

Johnston said the seniors are a factor at Sturgeon hospital. With the hospital operating at full capacity, he said the hospital has a high percentage of seniors admitted into the department.

“The reality is that they often require admission for medical problems and it’s just the nature of the community,” he said.

In order to reduce wait times the hospital has hired an additional physician, started performing lab tests upon arrival, holds regular meetings in the emergency department with staff members and holds weekly meetings with community groups to place patients into community beds.

Johnston adds that while waiting times are long, hospital staff work to provide excellent care for patients.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta released its second quarterly report on emergency departments across the province on Nov. 23.

In the report, patients rated their overall care 81 out of 100 from July to September this year, putting Sturgeon hospital’s emergency department in second place among medium-sized hospitals in Alberta.

The report also puts Sturgeon hospital at the longest wait time to see a doctor, longest total length of stay and longest time to be admitted to a hospital bed among medium-sized hospitals in Alberta.

While Sturgeon hospital is reporting longer wait times, Leeb said the problem is not unique to St. Albert.

Since emergency department wait times are higher across Canada, it indicates a problem with the overall health system rather than one individual health facility.

“The increase in emergency department wait times for admitted patients has increased by 11 per cent pretty much across the board,” she said. “What that tells us is that it’s a system’s issue. It’s not one particular hospital that’s struggling, it’s kind of the system that’s struggling at this point.”

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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.