Regional hospitals struggle with ambulance offload delays

Ambulance offload times are much better at regional hospitals in Nova Scotia than at tertiary sites, but they still have a ways to go before meeting provincial standards.

Only St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish met provincial standard in August

Capacity issues at some hospitals, such as the Dartmouth General, can lead to a backup of ambulances as paramedics wait to be able to transfer patients into the care of hospital staff. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Regional hospitals around the province transfer patients more quickly from paramedics to hospital staff than their Halifax-area counterparts, however only one hospital actually met the provincial offload time standard.

The standard says a patient should be transferred from the care of paramedics to hospital staff within 20 minutes of arrival, 90 per cent of the time.

Figures provided by the Health Department on Wednesday show only St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish met that target in August, managing transfers within 20 minutes 92 per cent of the time.

CBC News reported earlier this week the Halifax Infirmary and Dartmouth General Hospital only meet the standard between 10 and 17 per cent of the time, with offloads at the two sites taking three hours or longer 10 per cent of the time.

An ambulance waits outside the Halifax Infirmary. Delays transferring patients from the care of paramedics to hospital staff mean some crews can be hours late getting home. (CBC)

The numbers from the department show that in August, Yarmouth Regional Hospital met the standard 80 per cent of the time, while Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst and the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow each hit the mark 75 per cent of the time.

The South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater met the mark 59 per cent of the time, Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville came in at 50 per cent, and Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney managed the transfer within 20 minutes just 41 per cent of the time.

Also, according to the department Colchester Regional Hospital offloaded patients within the provincial standard 42 per cent of the time, and 75 per cent were offloaded within 33 minutes.

A representative for the province's paramedics union has said when paramedics are tied up waiting at hospitals — particularly in Halifax — it can be hours before they return to their home communities.

Premier calls numbers unacceptable

On Tuesday, Premier Stephen McNeil called the results from the Halifax Infirmary and Dartmouth General unacceptable.

"We need to do a better job dealing with an issue that's become chronic all over the province," he told reporters at Province House.

"We're tying up resources. Paramedics with rigs need to be out, back in the community."

Premier Stephen McNeil has asked the health minister to work on reducing delays for ambulance offload times. (CBC)

At six of seven regional hospitals, 75 per cent of the offloads in August happened in 31 minutes or less; at Cape Breton Regional, 75 per cent of offloads happened within 43 minutes.

Briefing notes for Health Minister Randy Delorey, which detailed the issue of offload times, noted there is an increased cost to the department to purchase "additional EHS unit hours" to compensate for crews waiting around hospitals.

Unknown cost of delays

A Health Department spokesperson said on Wednesday information is still being gathered to understand that cost to the system, but an estimate isn't ready yet.

McNeil said he's asked Delorey to work with department and health authority staff to find a way to improve the offload times.

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche