The average emergency room patient at four of Ottawa’s five hospitals waited longer than two hours to see a doctor in April, longer than the provincial average.
New statistics from Health Quality Ontario show patients waited an average of 1.9 hours to see a doctor in Ontario emergency rooms in April, the third straight month with a wait time increase.
In Ottawa, the average wait time to see a doctor for a first assessment in the emergency room was between 1.8 hours and 3.4 hours in April. Three Ottawa hospitals ranked in the bottom 12 for longest wait times in Ontario.
At the Montfort Hospital, patients waited an average of 1.8 hours to see a doctor in the emergency room in April.
The Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus reported an average wait of 2.5 hours, while patients waited 3.4 hours at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus. The average wait was 2.8 hours at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.
Emergency room patients waited an average of 3.4 hours to be assessed by a doctor at CHEO.
The average length of stay in the emergency department for “low-urgency patients” not requiring admission to hospital ranged from 3.5 hours at the Montfort Hospital to 5.4 hours at CHEO. The average length of stay in the ER for “low-urgency patients” at the Ottawa Hospital was 4.4 hours at the Civic Campus and 5 hours at the General Campus.
Dr. James Worrall, an emergency physician at the Ottawa Hospital, told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s “CFRA Live with Andrew Pinsent” that health-care professionals are burnt out after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just in our department, for example, we’ve seen a lot of turnover of our nursing staff. Many people who were with us for a long time have left. They’ve reached the end of their rope,” he said. “We have a lot of wonderful, new, younger nurses; we’ve been able to recruit, but we’re still short-staffed. It’s going to take quite awhile before we reach a new equilibrium but there’s no way around it.”
Worrall also said that the kinds of illnesses doctors are seeing in the emergency department have become more complex as the population ages.
“As people get older, they develop more illnesses. Fortunately, we have better treatments now and people are able to live with chronic illness. But when you live with chronic illness, you develop complications and problems arise. Often, they’re unscheduled, and so you come to the emergency department,” he explained. “That means the complexity of the problems that we’ve seen in the emergency department has never been greater.”
Ottawa Hospital nurse Christie Cowan says nurse burnout is becoming a serious issue.
“Health care in Ontario was buckling at the knee; COVID and Bill 124 came around with a hammer and just took the legs right out from under us,” Cowan told CTV News Ottawa.
Bill 124 caps wage increases for nurses and other public servants to one per cent for three years. Some nurses left the profession due to the wage cap, saying it left them feeling undervalued.
Patients with more complex needs require more time to treat, which means the number of patients an emergency department physician can see in an hour is on the decline, Worrall said.
Hospitals in Ottawa have been warning patients to expect longer than usual wait times in the emergency room due to patient volumes.
Last weekend, CHEO said it was experiencing a “spring weekend like no other” with an overwhelmed emergency room and a lack of beds. At one point, 16 patients were waiting in the emergency room, up to 48 hours, for a bed in the hospital.
“Since Friday, we have had more young people than normal for this time of year come to us with viruses, trauma, and injuries that are more severe than normal. Broken bones, head injuries, etc: ailments that require admissions to hospital,” CHEO said in a statement on Twitter. “But we don’t have any free beds.”
CHEO said its emergency department experienced the busiest May ever, and is on-pace to set a record for patients in June.
Hawkesbury and District General Hospital had the second longest wait to see a doctor in the emergency room in Ontario, at 3.5 hours. The Windsor Regional Hospital – Metropolitan Campus had the longest waits to see a doctor for an initial assessment in April, at 5 hours.
With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Jeremie Charron
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