June 24th, 2024

Emergency department wait times can vary widely, says AHS


By Lethbridge Herald on January 11, 2022.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Alberta Health Services says that wait times at Chinook Regional Hospital emergency department can vary based on a number of factors, such as bed availability and patient volume and acuity.

Al Beeber –  Lethbridge Herald

She didn’t want to ruin Christmas dinner for her family so despite suffering a head injury in a fall, a city woman chose not to accept a trip to hospital by ambulance.

A day after her head went through drywall, she decided that she should have the injury looked after.

The woman told The Herald in a recent phone interview she spent more than two hours waiting to be seen even though a sign in the waiting room at the Emergency department said the wait would be 27 minutes. Finally, she decided just to leave.

While she waited, the woman said others including a woman with a burned mouth from pizza, were taken in before her.

“I had a racquetball-sized bump on my head so I phoned the paramedics” but she opted out of going via ambulance because there was no assurance she would be promptly seen, she said.

“It’s a bad day to do it, I’m thinking I’ve got family coming. I made the choice saying ‘OK, my family’s coming, I don’t want to ruin Christmas. I’m a little shaken with the anxiety but with head injuries things might come later on,” she said.

She said her jaw and ears started to hurt and the bruise started getting more colourful in other areas. So I go to emerg.”

The sign said 27 minutes and only three people were in the waiting room.

“I ended up sitting there until the cows came home. I’m sure everyone’s gone through that. I even asked ‘is this going to be much longer?’ There was a girl that came in after me and I could clearly see everything happening in the room. The curtain was not drawn. If they’re talking about a pandemic and the nurses being run off their feet, that’s not what I saw. I saw the lady who came in after me, I could clearly hear her talking to the doctor that she had burned her mouth eating pizza. I’m not saying hers isn’t worse than mine and maybe infection. I could hear everything but she came in after me. I’m thinking this is a head injury, things do crop up,” she recalled.

Alberta Health Services, in a written response to The Herald, said “overall wait times are determined by the total number of patients and their acuity, or the seriousness of what brought them to the Emergency Department (ED). The wait times posted reflect an estimate of how long it takes from a patient’s assessment by a triage nurse until they are seen by a physician.”

AHS said wait times can be affected by factors including “presentation of patients who require immediate care and need the attention of several care team members. Examples include patients involved in a trauma, or suffering from a heart attack or stroke. When these types of presentations arrive simultaneously, the wait time for less urgent presentations increases.

“When patients are admitted to hospital after coming to the ED, if a bed is not available within the hospital at the time, those patients will be required to wait in the ED until a bed becomes available.”

When high volumes of patients appear at the Emergency department, wait times will increase, said AHS.

“This is often related to access issues elsewhere in the health care system, including individuals without a primary care physician. South Zone Medical Affairs is currently interviewing for the more than 10 AHS-sponsored positions now posted for new Lethbridge based-family physicians, said the statement.

Highest priority in the ER is given to life or limb threatening presentations. To prioritize care of patients, staff use “a nationally recognized tool called the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS),” said AHS.

“The CTAS ranges from CTAS-1, defined as patients requiring immediate intervention and possibly resuscitation, to CTAS-4 and CTAS-5 which are defined as less urgent and non-urgent conditions that don’t require the same immediate care.

“Calling Health Link at 811 is an option that provides free 24/7 advice from registered nurses, as well as general health information for Albertans. We recognize that Health Link is receiving a high call volume at this time. We also encourage individuals to connect with their primary care physician, when possible.

For a real-time look at Emergency Department wait times throughout the province, visit the wait time tracker: http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/waittimes<http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/waittimes,” said the AHS statement.

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