Early flu season contributed to 15-minute increase in ER wait times last month, WRHA says

Patients waited an average of 15 minutes longer for care last month in Winnipeg emergency rooms than they did the previous month.

Nurses union says increase caused by staff shortages

Average ER wait times increased by 15 minutes last month compared to November. (CBC)

Patients waited an average of 15 minutes longer for care last month in Winnipeg emergency rooms than they did the previous month.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority posted numbers showing the median wait time at all ERs in December was an hour and 45 minutes. That compared to an hour and a half wait in the month of November.

Krista Williams, chief health operations officer with the WRHA, said there are several factors that led to last month's higher wait times.

"The flu presented earlier this year. We knew that the flu would have an impact. It was not as significant as previous years," she said.

The winter season also contributed to the longer wait times, Williams said, with slip-and-fall injuries caused by icy sidewalks and seasonal respiratory illnesses filling up beds in emergency departments and intensive care units. 

A CT scanner was out of operation at the Grace Hospital for five days in December, and Williams said ER patients can experience longer waits because of people coming in high on meth.

Changes and consolidations throughout the health system have also pushed up wait times, such as at Concordia, where capacity in the surgical unit had to be temporarily decreased as it transitioned from another hospital. The health authority is working to minimize these kinds of disruptions, which she insisted will be short-term.

"We're making some of the biggest changes that we've ever made in our system, and we know that there will be some temporary impacts through that process," Williams said.

The president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said she's disappointed that emergency department wait times are once again on the rise.

Wait times have been higher ever since the WRHA implemented Phase 1 of its consolidation plan more than a year ago, Darlene Jackson said in a statement released to media Thursday.

Jackson says these changes are resulting in staff shortages, ICU bed closures, and concerning increases to workload and overtime which she says undermines patient care.

"This is unsustainable and undermines quality patient care. It's not fair to ask nurses and other front-line professionals to clean up the mess that this government has created," Jackson said.

Williams said it is essential the that province complete Phase 2 of its health care overhaul plan in order for the expected benefits to fully materialize.

With files from Marianne Klowak


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