ER wait times in Sask. bogged down by addiction, long stays, says health minister

Saskatchewan's health minister and Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili sparred on Tuesday over why emergency wait times in Saskatchewan are on the rise.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili says not enough patients being discharged

Emergency room wait times are on the rise in Saskatchewan. The wait is about three hours in Prince Albert, four hours in Saskatoon and five hours in Regina. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Saskatchewan's health minister and Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili are sparring over why emergency wait times in Saskatchewan are on the rise.

On Tuesday, Minister Jim Reiter cited the province's growing drug problem as one reason behind increasing emergency room wait times.

The average ER wait time in Prince Albert was about 3.1 hours, 2.8 hours in Saskatoon, while patients wait an average of 5.3 hours in Regina's emergency room. Meanwhile, the average wait in the Lloydminster and North Battleford areas was about 2.9 hours.

"Clearly it's too long and we need to do better," Reiter said on Tuesday. 

Patients are also waiting longer to get a hospital bed. In addition, the average length of a stays in hospital has increased in the last year, compared to 2017-2018. For example, an average emergency department stay for admitted patients in Saskatoon was 38.6 hours in 2018-19 — up from 35.9 hours the year before.

Reiter said an aging population is also a factor in rising wait times as well. He said about 42 per cent of emergency room visits are deemed "non-emergency or of lesser emergent nature" and can be treated elsewhere.

Primary care

Meili said the problem isn't the number of people going into the emergency room for care, but that there aren't enough people getting care and exiting the health system fast enough.

Meili worked for years as a doctor in inner-city Saskatoon and said there is a problem where a physician starts their shift with every single care bed already taken and the maximum number of patients admitted.

"You can't just fix this with fixing emergency rooms. You need to be fixing it with more access to primary care," Meili said.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the problem isn't the number of people being admitted in the emergency room that is bogging down wait times in Saskatchewan, but that people are not being discharged quickly enough. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

"You need to be fixing it with better availability of beds on the floor as well, so that people are actually able to be where they should be getting the care they deserve and not blocking up the emergency room, which is what's happening now." 

Meili accused the government of shifting the goal posts on the province's plan to reduce wait times. The Saskatchewan Party set an ambitious goal of reducing wait times to zero more than five years ago. 

Since then, the province revised that number, promising wait times would be cut by 60 per cent in 2019. Now, the goal has been revised to an unspecified amount.

"Obviously we didn't meet the targets in this case. So we're going to kind of retrench. We're going to look at this," Reiter said.

The health minister said the government will review how its Connected Care strategy is working. That strategy sees medical teams talk with patients about their needs and how they can be addressed elsewhere.

"Our government's been about targets. We have not been scared to set them."

Some of these problems were addressed in the provincial budget, said Reiter, including adding rapid access to addictions medicine clinics.

Reiter said the situation might be addressed by looking at other places that have had success.

"Boy, if we can if we can copy somebody else's success, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We want to do what works." 


  • An earlier version of this story quoted Health Minister Jim Reiter as saying "Our government's been about targets. We have been scared to set them." In fact, he said "We have not been scared to set them."
    May 15, 2019 1:16 PM CT

With files from Adam Hunter


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