Report shows local wait times have been getting better

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: June 20, 2012 | [ WEB ]

WATERLOO REGION —

Wait times for hospital care is a concern across the country but at local hospitals the situation does not appear to be as grim.

A report released Tuesday by the Wait Time Alliance — a group of doctors and national medical societies — highlighted growing delays for patients receiving a range of treatments and testing from MRIs to cancer care. However, Ontario remained the leader in several treatment areas according to data analyzed this spring — and hospitals in the region are contributing to that.

While emergency room grades vary in the province from top marks for patients not needing admittance to failing grades for those in need of bed, local hospital officials said that in the last year, waits have vastly improved.

At both Grand River and St. Mary’s General hospitals, the wait time for a bed for someone coming through the emergency room has vastly improved.

“It was taking a year ago, April (2011), about 44 hours to get someone into an in-patient bed and now just our most recent numbers, April was 28 (hours) and May was 21 (hours). It was quite a significant drop in that time period,” said Sue Robertson, vice president of clinical programs and chief nursing officer at Grand River Hospital.

Although data from the Ministry of Health shows that during January to March this year, wait times for complex and minor conditions at Grand River, St. Mary’s General and Cambridge Memorial hospitals were above provincial targets, officials say they are working to improve the numbers.

At St. Mary’s, hospital president Don Shilton said that the hospital began implementing “Lean” methods — a process to improve efficiency, notably used by companies like Toyota — in 2010 to streamline hospital processes.

The results are already showing.

“Early on, what we’re hearing is that the flow is much better of patients back and forth and the flow of information for those patients is much better back and forth,” he said.

The April launch of a wait time webpage is also providing real-time updates for the current number of patients admitted and waiting at the St. Mary’s emergency room which may have positive affects in the coming months.

“The one piece that we do know is that we’re getting a lot of favourable feedback from patients for just knowing. . . . They understand what they’re coming into and that’s really different than any other emergency department in Ontario,” said Shilton.

A challenge hospitals face that was heavily discussed in the alliance report is the impact patients needing Alternative Level Care are having on wait times throughout the system. These are patients ready to be discharged but are waiting for space at rehabilitation or long-term care facilities or services elsewhere.

At both Grand River hospital sites, patients waiting to be moved to alternative care take up 45 to 55 beds any given day. These are beds incoming patients could use.

“When you’ve got too many people waiting to leave the hospital, that backs up people who are in the emergency department,” said Robertson.

Robertson explained that in working with the Local Health Integration Network, Grand River hospitals have been able to reduce their number alternative care patients by finding new facilities for them faster. New strategies at St. Mary’s have improved the situation as well.

A collaborative effort with other health agencies was a similar point raised in the alliance report — but on a national scale. Robertson and Shilton agreed national dialogue about wait times would help share best practices but they also said that collaboration existing through the local health network is already creating success.

Although the wait time report shed light on many common problems hospitals are having, Robertson said that the many complex factors that contribute to waiting times at each unique hospital and will need more than one basic solution.

“The other issues, they’re kind of multifactorial. . . . There’s no one answer in an emergency department,” she said.

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.