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Manitobans wait longest for ER help, study finds

Manitobans have some of the longest waits for service in hospital emergency departments in Canada, a new national study says.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information survey measured lengths of stay for persons visiting emergency departments between April 2012 and March 2013 in seven provinces and the Yukon.

Whether their health condition was deemed urgent or not, Manitobans had the longest stays in emergency departments among the provinces surveyed. They also faced the longest waits in emergency before being admitted to hospital, when that was required.

In urgent or emergency cases, the median time spent in a Manitoba emergency department was 4.7 hours, compared with a national average of 3.1 hours. The next longest stay was in Saskatchewan at 3.8 hours.

Those who wound up being admitted to hospital waited a median of 12 hours in Manitoba, compared with a national average of 8.8 hours.

The report only backs up what the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority knows, WRHA president and CEO Arlene Wilgosh said. She said what's driving the numbers up are the number of people who wait in an ER for more than 24 hours for a bed to open up or for special diagnostic tests.

Last year, Wilgosh announced goals that by 2015, ERs would be in a position to treat and discharge 90 per cent of emergency room patients (those not admitted to hospital) within four hours and ensure nobody sat in an ER for longer than 24 hours.

The WRHA also wants to be able to unload all ambulances at city hospitals within 60 minutes and lower the number of non-emergency patients seeking treatment at ERs.

However, she said in a recent interview little progress had been made in achieving those goals.

When people arrive at an ER, they are triaged based on the type and severity of their medical signs and symptoms and are categorized from Level 1 (resuscitation) to Level 5 (non-urgent).

Wilgosh said many patients going to ERs are 4s and 5s who could be treated at a Quick Care Clinic, a walk-in clinic, or a minor injury clinic such as the Pan Am Clinic. Many of them are seeking treatment for lacerations, sprains and strains.

"A lot of those people are coming from the north end of the city. Is there something that we need to be doing to address that?"

She said officials are exploring a second facility in the city, similar to the Pan Am Clinic, that could diagnose and treat minor broken bones and other injuries rather than these cases ending up in the ER.

Provinces participating in the survey included Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Yukon also participated.

Across Canada, nine out of 10 patients were in and out of an emergency department within 7.4 hours or less last year, according to the CIHI survey.

Agnita Pal, manager of clinical administrative databases for CIHI, cautioned not all emergency departments in Manitoba were captured in the survey -- just those in Winnipeg.

She said waits tend to be longer in large tertiary hospitals such as Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital.

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