Emergency room backlog affecting paramedics, fire department

Watch above: The Saskatoon Health Region is dealing with a backlog of people waiting in emergency rooms. As Wendy Winiewski reports, the volume of patients is having an impact on first responders.

SASKATOON – An emergency room backlog has patients in the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) waiting up to 48 hours. Influenza is being blamed as a contributing factor to the backlog.

The backlog is affecting all hospitals to varying degrees and patients may be asked to try an alternate ER if necessary. Influenza and non-urgent patients are encouraged to visit non-emergency clinics or their family doctor.

“It isn’t first come, first served,” said Corey Miller, vice president of integrated affairs with SHR. “The people are triaged and assessed by our clinical team then from that evaluation in the triage process, the priority is given to the patients who most need the care.”

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The backlog is having a trickle-down effect on other emergency services.

“It does tie up our staff,” said Troy Davies with MD Ambulance. When an ambulance is called and a patient is transported to hospital, crews are required to stay with the patient until they’ve been assessed.

“Yesterday we had patients in the hallway with our staff for up to five hours,” said Davies.

Staff supervisors with MD Ambulance are attending Saskatoon ER’s to relieve employees who are waiting with patients, allowing them an opportunity to have lunch.

MD Ambulance response times are lagging and in turn, affecting the Saskatoon Fire Department.

“If the ambulance is tied up at the hospital, it means we’re on scene with that patient for an extended period of time, sometimes up to an hour,” said Assistant Fire Chief Morgan Hackl.

“That ties up our apparatus at a scene,” leaving fewer resources to respond to other medical calls, fires, and motor vehicle collisions.

“It really puts a stress on the whole emergency responder family,” said Hackl.

If you arrive at emergency and are experiencing the following conditions you will receive priority treatment:​

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  • chest pain
  • stroke (signs/symptoms: facial droop, arm weakness, slurred speech)
  • difficulty breathing
  • a large cut or wound
  • broken limbs
  • severe abdominal pain
  • sudden shortness of breath
  • sudden and severe headache

Patients are not seen in chronological order but in order of the severity of their illness. Minor ailments will experience longer wait times in emergency and should seek alternative treatment at minor emergency or walk-in clinics or with a family physician.

Those conditions may include:​

  • cough/cold
  • prescription refill
  • minor cut or scrape

The region is encouraging doctors to complete additional rounds and discharge any patients who are well enough. People are reminded to use emergency responders and emergency rooms for urgent medical care only.

Officials are also reminding the public to receive an influenza vaccination. An outbreak was declared at the beginning of December but influenza levels are now considered normal.

Last week, there were 50 lab confirmed cases, this week there are 30 so far which is on par for this time of year.

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