One of Canada's leading physicians has a bitter diagnosis for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority — it's suffering from a chronic condition of narrow-mindedness.
Dr. Alan Drummond, public affairs chair of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, said the WRHA needs to add more hospital beds if it's ever going to deal with the problems in its emergency rooms.
A shortage of beds means patients spend more time waiting in those rooms, he said.
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"The trouble is, that (they) can't seem to get beyond this idea of diversion and never seem to want to talk about beds," Drummond said.
"I presume it's because it will cost money."
But health authorities needs to recognize there's a "grey tsunami" coming with the aging of the baby boomers, he said.
"We're going to need to increase bed capacity [but] they never talk about it. It's always about let's keep people from coming to the emerg."
Drummond has spent years following the efforts of the WRHA to reduce overcrowding in our city hospitals and he's spent years criticizing those efforts. Dozens of the same recommendations that have been rephrased and then "re-introduced" year after year, he said.
They've tried adding triage nurses, but there are still not enough beds. They've tried more access to geriatric care, but still not enough beds, he said. Instead, they focus on efforts to urge the public to avoid going to an ER for less serious ailments.
"(They) just couldn't resist, couldn't resist the temptation to say 'we have too many patients coming into the emergency department with non-urgent problems that need to be seen elsewhere," Drummond said.
"The minute you start talking about that in the context of crowding, it implies to us that you just don't get it."
More beds, that is the cure
The cure is that at the end of the day, hospitals need more beds — and more options for those who don't need those beds, he said.
That means more long-term care facilities for elderly patients and more chronic care clinics for those with conditions that land them in the ER a lot, and more efficient care within the hospital to help patients be diagnosed, treated and back on the streets sooner, Drummond added.
That said, he concedes it's complex. Simply accessing more beds won't solve the problem, unless there's sufficient staff, technicians and equipment to treat the patients in those beds.
He also doesn't discount the WRHA's efforts to beef up staff.
"(They say) 'we're going hire more nurse practitioners, we're going to try and get better access to GPs for after-hours care, we're going to look at fast-track systems.' Fair enough, but this is just a useless diversion with no hope of it impacting on wait-times in the emerg."
Unless we treat the bed shortage symptoms, our chronically ailing emergency departments will continue to suffer, and the results could once again be deadly, he said.
"Brian Sinclair? I think it will happen again," he said.
"These stories continue to happen."
Sinclair, a 45-year-old homeless double-amputee died in the Health Sciences Centre's (HSC) ER waiting room on Sept. 21, 2008, after sitting for 34 hours without receiving care.
He had gone to the hospital for a blocked catheter and a urinary tract infection.