Windsor Regional Hospital is fighting a losing battle against emergency room wait times — it’s currently ranked worst in Ontario — and officials say there is little that can be done to solve the problem.
Ongoing efforts to run additional unfunded beds have not eased the pressure. The wait time Monday for a first assessment by a doctor in the emergency rooms at both hospital campuses was more than five hours.
“The Metropolitan campus has historically been one of the worst in the province and that was highlighted recently. The Ouellette campus is not much better,” said Dr. Wassim Saad, the hospital’s chief of staff.
“We were already starting off at a very poor position when it came to our rank in the province, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. We’re going to continue to do what we can but we still need help from the community.”
Ontario Health recently released the latest data from April showing that the average wait time for a first assessment by a doctor in an Ontario emergency room was 1.9 hours.
Newmarket’s Southlake Regional Health Centre and Brampton’s William Osler Health System topped the list of quickest Ontario hospital ERs with average wait times of 36 minutes.
The average wait time at Erie Shores HealthCare in Leamington was two hours to first see a doctor.
The average wait time at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Met campus was five hours — the longest in Ontario. At the Ouellette campus, the average in April was 3.3 hours.
On Windsor Regional Hospital’s website, a warning pops up stating that the emergency departments are seeing “heavy volumes” and patients will wait longer than normal.
The website also gives regular updates about approximate wait times for a first assessment, which was more than five hours throughout the day on Monday.
I screamed and screamed for hours before I got any help
Lorraine Carnelos, who arrived by ambulance at the Met campus last month with extreme abdominal pain and a “jerking” diaphragm, said she waited longer than that.
“I was screaming and screaming in pain,” said Carnelos, 78, a retired nurse. “I screamed and screamed for hours before I got any help.
“The surgeon said to my friend he did not know I was that ill or in that much pain because it wasn’t included in the report. He didn’t get a report about that because nobody came to see me.”
Carnelos said she arrived at the hospital around 9 a.m. on June 8, was placed in a chair, then waited for hours. She said she was eventually diagnosed with an incarcerated hernia and underwent surgery around 2 a.m. on June 9.
“It’s a very lonely experience,” she said. “It’s a very unbelievable experience. You’re in shock over it all. It’s frustrating right now. It’s frustrating every day because I know there are people going through hell all over the province.”
Saad said there are several issues aggravating the situation, including a “long-standing” shortage of emergency room physicians in Windsor.
“That’s always been a struggle,” he said. “We’ve been in active recruitment as long as I can remember.”
Lack of in-patient beds is another ongoing issue, said Saad. When an emergency room patient is admitted to the hospital, there is often no bed to give them. That means they remain in the ER, and the hospital can’t bring in the next patient.
The attempt to catch up on surgeries cancelled during the pandemic is adding to that strain.
“Not only does it affect human health resources, but it takes up physical beds,” said Saad. “So you bring people in for elective surgeries and now they’re occupying a bed. So if you’re admitting somebody from the emergency room you have one less bed to put people in.”
The hospital is currently running 18 unfunded beds at a deficit across both campuses in an effort to alleviate the stress on the system. Officials have been negotiating with the province to get the beds funded before they have to be shut down.
Saad said ripple effects from the pandemic continue put a strain on every department in the hospital.
“There is a degree of burnout, there is no question,” he said. “A lot of staff, nurses, other allied health staff, just don’t want to pick up extra shifts like they used to in the past.
“And it’s hard to ask somebody to go above and beyond what they’re already used to doing, because they’ve been doing it for two years during the pandemic.”
There are also external factors. Saad said many community health care providers who pivoted to virtual appointments during the pandemic have yet to switch back and are “still not fully available for their patients.”
With nowhere else to go, he said people head to the emergency department with issues that don’t necessarily belong there.
“We’ve been pleading with our primary care providers and with other specialists in the community to say if you can see patients in person, you should see patients in person,” said Saad.
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