Patients in the emergency department at the regional hospital in Thunder Bay are spending more time waiting for beds.

The Health Sciences Centre reports that, in the last four years, average wait times have lengthened to more than 32 hours — an increase of two-and-a-half hours.

Hospital vice president Rhonda Crocker-Ellacott said the reason is mostly because beds are occupied by Alternate Level of Care (ALC) patients who should be in other facilities.

What is an ALC patient?

When a patient is occupying a bed in a hospital and does not require the intensity of resources/services provided in this care setting (acute, complex continuing care, mental health or rehabilitation), the patient must be designated ALC at that time by the physician or his/her delegate.

The ALC wait period starts at the time of designation and ends at the time of discharge/transfer to a discharge destination (or when the patient’s needs or condition changes and the designation of ALC no longer applies).

Source: Ontario Ministry of Health and Long term Care

She noted it was a big issue last week, when the hospital was not able to admit new patients for several days.

"There's some major moves afoot to try to deal with it," she said.

"We actually had a high of 80 alternate level of care patients.  It's more than gridlock at 80 patients."

Wait times good for those who don't need beds

Crocker-Ellacott added the hospital has made dramatic improvements in treating patients in the ER who do not require a hospital bed. Their wait times are shorter than the Ontario average.

"Our non-admitted patients [or ER patients] ... are actually doing very much better than the province," she said.

"We're treating 94 per cent of those patients within the [provincial] target ...we've really improved."

She noted the provincial target for patients who are very ill but are treated without being admitted is seven hours, and the hospital is treating patients within 6.8 hours.

"And for [ER] patients who are … not highly-acute, the provincial target is four hours, and we are treating them in three."

Crocker-Ellacott said hospital administration recognizes "the area that we have major improvements to make is admitted patients, because we've actually treated only 28 per cent of patients in that category within target times versus the province at 42 per cent."

"So our waits are increasing by about two-and-a-half hours," she said.

"And we're attributing that mostly to our problem with alternate level of care patients occupying in-patient beds."