Capital region hospitals, including the Sturgeon, have seen a significant decrease in the number of patients waiting in the emergency department for beds, but many facilities are not meeting their wait time targets, according to information released by the province on Monday.
Since September, hospitals in Red Deer, Calgary and Edmonton have seen a 55 per cent overall reduction in the number of emergency in-patients, those patients in the emergency room waiting to be admitted to hospital.
In addition to the Sturgeon, the Grey Nuns, Misericordia, Royal Alexandra, Stollery and University of Alberta hospitals were also included in data for the Edmonton area.
“Those six hospitals have shown an [emergency in-patient] reduction of about 42 per cent,” Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said during a Monday press conference.
In Calgary, there was a 68 per cent overall reduction in the number of ER in-patients.
“The number of [in patients] have dropped very dramatically from last fall through to the end of February. In some cases, we have seen reductions in the number of [emergency in-patients] as high as 70 per cent,” Zwozdesky said.
Last month, AHS reported the daily average of such patients was 22 in Calgary, 47 in Edmonton and area and five in Red Deer.
“This is a significant downward trend that indicates the situation in emergency departments is improving,” Zwozdesky said.
“Patients who need to be admitted are getting into beds sooner.”
However, the length of stay for emergency room patients has remained relatively unchanged in the last few months.
New targets announced by Alberta Health Services (AHS) last year aim to have 70 per cent of patients in the emergency room seen, assessed, treated and discharged within four hours by March 2011.
The latest information on emergency length of stay numbers for Edmonton hospitals, which did not include the Sturgeon, shows the province is not meeting its goal.
Between Feb. 27 and March 5 only one hospital in Edmonton — the Misericordia — met that target when 70 per cent of 792 patients were discharged within four hours. A target of 90 per cent has been set for March 2015.
Lengthy of stay at other Edmonton hospitals varied with 42 per cent of patients at the Royal Alexandra and 69 per cent of patients at the Stollery being seen and discharged within four hours.
The province has also said it wants 45 per cent of those patients requiring a hospital bed to be admitted within eight hours.
Information on patients admitted to hospital last week shows the Misericordia was the only hospital in Edmonton to meet this goal, when 45 per cent of patients requiring a bed were admitted within eight hours.
In December, the province introduced new overcapacity protocols aimed at reducing patient backlogs in emergency rooms. The measures were introduced after doctors last fall warned of a potential collapse of emergency rooms across the province.
At the Sturgeon, 10 overcapacity beds were identified by staff to be used if certain triggers were met.
Since the protocols were introduced, staff have reported mixed results.
“They’re kind of limping along. Many days they work and some days they don’t,” said Dr. Daniel Hryciuk, an ER physician at the Sturgeon Community Hospital, two weeks ago.
“There is certainly a commitment to try to implement [protocols] during the day, anyway.”
While in-patients can be moved out of the ER, Hryciuk said sometimes staff are unable to find them beds in other parts of the hospital. This means patients may have to be temporarily moved to the IV therapy clinic or the outpatient department.
However, when these departments close in the evening, the patients are brought back to the emergency department if a bed cannot be found elsewhere in the hospital, said Hryciuk.
“Some days, there are just no places upstairs for the patients to go.”
Wendy Tanaka-Collins, the Sturgeon’s site director, said last month the new protocols have improved the flow of patients through the hospital.
“I certainly think the … plans have really helped in terms of identifying when patients are having to be moved or need to be moved,” she said.
On Monday, Zwozdesky said tracking the length of stay in ERs is only one element of a system-wide strategy aimed at improving emergency care across Alberta.
He said the province remains committed to the addition of 360 new hospital beds and 1,300 new continuing care spaces by the end of the month.