EDITORIAL: Improved ER wait times a good sign

EDITORIAL: Improved ER wait times a good sign

Wait times in Winnipeg emergency rooms were down in April compared to the previous month. It’s the first time there’s been a drop in wait times since the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority launched its hospital consolidation plan in October. Since then, wait times have grown.

However, most of that has to do with seasonal fluctuations. ERs are often busier in the winter months, especially during flu seasons. Hospitals experienced a particularly severe flu season this winter as well as an increase in the percentage of high-acuity patients.

Considering the severity of the flu season, hospitals did a relatively good job or handling the influx. Wait times did rise from October to March. However, the increase was manageable.

More importantly, there have been improvements made over the longer term. ER wait times fell 19% in April compared to March. That’s an improvement not only month-to-month, but also year-over-year as wait times were lower compared to the same month last year.

Data also shows that ER wait times were lower in the fiscal year 2017-18 – which ended March 31 – compared to 2016-17. That’s important because while the first phase of the consolidation plan began in October with the closure of Misericordia Urgent Care Centre, there were other related improvements made to the system that began in the spring of 2017.

One of the key improvements is the WRHA is doing a better job of reducing the demand on inpatient beds by finding alternative and more appropriate care for elderly patients. That frees up beds and shortens wait times for ER patients admitted to hospital.

The WRHA still has a long way to go before it can demonstrate significant improvement to the system. Winnipeg hospitals have had among the longest ER wait times in Canada for years and the system is not going to get fixed overnight. ER wait times in Winnipeg are still well above the national average.

The WRHA says further improvements will be made after the second phase of consolidation is implemented sometime over the next year. Those changes will include the closure of Concordia Hospital as an acute care facility and the transition of Seven Oaks Hospital’s ER to an urgent care centre. The WRHA says by consolidating specialty services, including diagnostic testing and surgery, at three hospitals instead of six, patients will get quicker service and the system will be able to more effectively improve patient flow through hospitals.

We’ll find out over the next year how well that theory works in practice.

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