New Brunswick

Too many patients and not enough time in the day

Sometimes after the doctors' office closes, the only place for healthcare is in the local emergency room, and the hospitals are feeling the crush.

Patients are seeking out care in emergency rooms when their doctors aren’t available

Long waits for patients in New Brunswick emergency rooms can be up to 12 hours, in the case of one woman. (CBC)

A doctor in Moncton says emergency room overcrowding is worsened by patients who are having problems accessing services from their family physician.

The Campbellton Regional Hospital and Moncton Hospital both issued requests to the public last week asking them to seek alternate ways of accessing health care, and suggesting alternatives like after hours and walk in clinics, and the provincial Telecare program. 

Dr. Serge Melanson, the chief of staff and emergency room physician at Moncton suggested patients with cases that are not urgent approach their family doctors first, otherwise they could be be waiting for six hours or more at the ER. 

Since Melanson started working at Moncton 12 years ago he's noticed "there's always been some degree of overcrowding" and "there's no doubt" it's a province wide problem.

Dr. Serge Melanson, president of the New Brunswick medical society said losing a doctor is unfortunate. "Recruitment and retention of physicians in New Brunswick is the responsibility of the regional health authorities, and we know that more needs to be done to support physicians as they work in a challenging health-care environment," he said. (Michel Nogue/Radio-Canada)
As a member of several regional medical committee he has heard about similar situations in rural facilities, including the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville. 

During cold season and flu season patients could easily spend from 4 to 6 hours waiting to see an ER  doctor, and there isn't anything patients can do to jump ahead in the triage system. Melanson says most cold and flu patients should never be in the ER in the first place. 

"There have been cases where I've been told by patients that they've waited for more than twelve hours to be seen for something that otherwise could be taken care of by their primary care doctor or an after hours clinic," said Melanson.

12 hour wait for broken foot

Kim Williams has first hand experience with long waits in the ER. She has been to the ER in the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital 10 times in the past 16 years, and one of the longest wait times was when her daughter Morgan had a broken foot.

"It's not nice sitting with a child who is shaking and vomiting and she has a headache and she's trying to go to sleep."

Williams said her family physician is on Prospect Street, but he isn't available after 4 p.m. when accidents often happen. She's taken advantage of Telecare but believes after hours clinics work the best. She agreed people should only use the ER when it's truly an emergency. 

"We don't go for nothing. If somebody cuts themselves or something and it's bad, we'll go and see if it can be stitched up."

Triage works immediately

Allison White, the Emergency Services Director at Vitalité Health Network said hospital staff try to avoid overcrowding by triaging patients within 15 minutes of their arrival.

White said part of the problem is that when physicians go on holidays, or are unavailable on evenings and weekends, the ER might be a patient's only choice.

"I think emergency is what is out there and is available for the patients to be able to have access to services around the clock," said White.

Sometimes the emergency room is the only option people have to seek treatment. (iStock)