Alberta patients experience ‘very long’ wait times for care in emergency departments: AMA survey | Canadian

A survey released Friday by the Alberta Medical Association takes a closer look at how patients feel about the state of emergency care in the province.

The patient survey was conducted in June and shows 84 per cent of respondents believe wait times in Alberta emergency departments are “fairly” or “very” long. Most people reported waiting up to five hours for care, roughly 40 per cent said they waited two hours or less, and 15 per cent reported waiting over six hours.

Of those who took the survey, 71 per cent said they believe timeliness of care in Alberta emergency departments has declined in the past four years.

Read more:

Calgarians waiting longer in hospital emergency rooms: AHS data

Nearly half — 49 per cent — believe the quality of care in emergency departments has declined over the past four years.

Story continues below advertisement

Dr. Paul Parks, the president of the section of emergency medicine for the AMA, said the conditions are “extremely demoralizing.”

“None of us that go into health care want to see people suffer and not be able to help them or have them have very, very long waits,” he said.

“It’s very, very difficult and it just seems to be getting worse and worse. And there’s no question that that is a factor that is driving away a lot of our nurses and allied health-care workers and making staffing even harder.”

Read more:

Patient lying on Drayton Valley hospital ER floor prompts call for change

The survey showed 46 per cent of patients went to an emergency department for care because they had no other options available to them. For example, it was after hours or a family doctor/walk-in clinic was not available.

“Every Albertan should have access to a medical home, should have a primary care physician and should be able to get timely access to primary care. So that’s a critical issue we have to improve across the province,” Parks said.

The physician added that he doesn’t believe emergency departments are overcrowded because of misuse.

“Sometimes the quick and easy patients are the ones we can see and the really sick ones we can’t get in,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“That is more really sick patients that need to be admitted into hospital. And because the hospitals are full and long-term care is full and all the downstream effects are full, we can’t get those patients admitted into hospital and see the new sick patients.”

Click to play video: 'Patient laying on Drayton Valley hospital ER floor prompts call for change'

Patient laying on Drayton Valley hospital ER floor prompts call for change

Patient laying on Drayton Valley hospital ER floor prompts call for change

He said emergency room workers are seeing a large number of patients who show up with serious conditions and leave without being seen because they have to wait too long.

The survey also showed that 78 per cent of patients are self-triaging at home, asking themselves whether their situation is serious enough for a trip to the emergency department. Of those, 49 per cent said they decided at least once not to go to the emergency department.

“It’s scary. That’s the thing that every time we advocate — myself, my colleagues when we get out there — we want to inform the public that the system is really stressed and really, we need help,” Parks said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We always balance that with, we don’t want to scare people away. There’s a lot of conditions out there that may seem minor that are not.

“We’re seeing very, very delayed presentations of very complicated, complex disease that maybe would have been a lot easier to manage and would have been a lot better for the patients if we’d seen them sooner.

“We don’t want people to be minimizing their symptoms or not coming in when they need care. We want to be there to deliver safe and timely care.”

The survey also found that rural sites (outside Calgary and Edmonton) saw the highest level of single visits to emergency departments (45 per cent) and multiple visits (13 per cent visited four times or more).

Parks said this shows the importance of keeping those rural centres open. In recent months, many rural urgent care centres have had to close for periods of time due to staffing issues.

Alberta Health Services said Thursday the urgent care centre at Airdrie Community Health Centre will temporarily close on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for about eight weeks due to “gaps in physician coverage.”

“That’s a massive negative impact. That urgent care centre exists because there’s a large patient population,” Parks said.

Story continues below advertisement

“It serves the need of that population. Those needs and that demand do not go away just because they’ve closed on the weekends.”

Read more:

Airdrie Community Health Centre urgent care to temporarily close overnight for 8 weeks

“This should never be accepted as normal or that this is a minor inconvenience,” Parks said. He described the situation as akin to acting in a “disaster mode” where the demand is outweighing the available resources.

“We don’t have enough human beings, nurses, allied health-care workers, physicians to keep open an urgent care centre that we absolutely need that serves a critical function.

“People should realize how desperate times are when an urgent care centre as big as Airdrie is being closed.”

So what’s the solution? Parks said the first step is for everyone to realize there’s a problem. He said short-term disaster management steps need to be implemented, including moving people around and doing whatever can be done for areas that are really struggling.

Another piece is valuing health-care workers, Parks said.

“We are struggling with human resources. You can build eight more hospitals in this province if you want and they’re meaningless if there’s no doctors and nurses to work in them. They’re just buildings.”

Story continues below advertisement

Global News has reached out to Alberta Health for a response to this story.

The survey of 4,398 panellists was conducted between June 14 and 24, 2022. A probability sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/-1.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20 at a 95 per cent confidence interval, according to the AMA.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Leave a Comment