Calgary

Cutting ER wait times in Alberta part of larger problem, says health official

The struggle to reduce emergency room wait times is a part of a larger challenge, a senior Alberta Health Service official says.

Chief medical officer Dr. Verna Yiu says ER queues reflect shortages in wider system

Reducing the wait time at emergency rooms is part of a larger set of challenges facing Alberta's health-care system, says chief medical officer Dr. Verna Yiu. (CBC)

The struggle to reduce emergency room wait times is a part of a larger challenge, a senior Alberta Health Services (AHS) official says.

Overall wait times to see an emergency department physician has been steadily falling in the past five years in most parts of the country, according to a study released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

More than 40 per cent of 161 hospitals across the country fell below the suggested three-hour wait time to get assessed by an emergency room physician.

But the report found the average wait in Alberta emergencies is just over three hours, which is the same as the national average.

AHS chief medical officer Dr. Verna Yiu says emergency departments reflect other shortages throughout the health system.

“So there are things that you can do to increase the process improvement within the emergency, but the reality is the reason you can't get the patients through is that there's a reflection of the whole system — which is why the initiatives have to be fairly broad.”

Yiu said there needs to be more supports for seniors in their homes so they don't need to go to emergency for medical care as often.

Calgary patient advocate Rick Lundy said he believes wait times in Alberta emergency departments are improving.

But the founder of the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society said other issues have to be addressed in order to further trim ER wait times.

“I think a problem is a lack of family docs, it's a lack of accessibility to the system, so they end up in the emergency room,” he said.  

“So we would still like to see emergency rooms flow a little bit better than they do and so people aren't sitting in them getting frustrated, but also patient safety issues become a concern.”

Lundy also said there isn’t enough mental health support. Many of those patients wind up in emergencies when they should be cared for elsewhere, he said. 

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