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Sask. government sets aside $12M to reduce hospital emergency wait times

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan government working to reduce ER wait times' Saskatchewan government working to reduce ER wait times
WATCH ABOVE: Long emergency wait times have plagued Saskatchewan hospitals, at one point reaching an average of 13 hours. But as Blake Lough reports, the provincial government is looking to reduce those numbers by supporting a unique approach to patient care.

The Saskatchewan government is spending $12 million of its $3.4 billion healthcare budget on reducing hospital emergency room wait times in Regina and Saskatoon.

The province has been grappling with consistently high wait times and overcapacity in major hospitals. In November, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) said the average wait time was up to 13 hours, far past the target of just over seven hours.

READ MORE: RQHR warns of ‘high patient volumes’ and wait times at emergency departments in Regina

In 2015, the health ministry pledged to reduce wait times by 60 per cent by 2019.

To reach that goal, Health Minister Jim Reiter is allocating between $4-5 million to support and expand the Accountable Care model that was piloted at Regina’s Pasqua Hospital in January 2016.

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“Wait times are too high, they’re not where we’d like them to be,” Reiter said.

“We’re going to expand. There will be another unit in Regina and a unit in Saskatoon. We’ll see how those go but we’re hopeful you’ll see more expansion in the very near future.”

READ MORE: Regina hospital pilot project has nurses, patients happy

The philosophy behind Accountable Care Units (ACUs) was developed by a physician in the United States and has been implemented in hospitals in the U.S,, U.K. and Australia but never Canada.

READ MORE: Canada has some of the longest wait times to see doctors, specialists: report

The goal is to turn sprawling hospitals into smaller, more manageable units through four specific features:

  • A physician and nurse manager share leadership of a ward
  • A physician is responsible for one unit, rather than being spread across the entire facility
  • Structured bedside rounds are made every day at the same time
  • Individual units are responsible for improving their own performance
Click to play video '‘Accountable care unit’ at Regina’s Pasqua Hosiptal proves successful,' ‘Accountable care unit’ at Regina’s Pasqua Hosiptal proves successful,
‘Accountable care unit’ at Regina’s Pasqua Hosiptal proves successful,

WATCH ABOVE: The province says an innovative, first-in-Canada health care pilot project has been a success, and could lead to bigger changes in hospitals across the province. Blake Lough explains.

The health ministry said patients treated by ACUs have been able to return home 15 per cent sooner, freeing up much-needed beds for patients in the emergency room.

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Licensed practical nurse Stef Ward works with the ACU at Pasqua Hospital and said patient and staff satisfaction has skyrocketed under the system.

“It makes our job easier, it makes the doctor’s job easier. Because people are getting looked after quicker, and they’re getting their tests faster and test results. [Patients] are not staying as long and we’re making sure they’re having a safe discharge so they’re going home safely as well,” Ward said.

Ward also added that the traditional system can result in inefficiencies for patients when nurses have to deal with multiple doctors and specialists over a wide area.

“The big question is when is my doctor coming? You were never able to answer and it put you in such an awkward position. You could be given test results of when they have cancer and you’re left with those results for days because a doctor doesn’t come to tell them.”

Minister Reiter said the remainder of the $12 million budgeted for reducing wait times will go towards community care centres. The provincial budget also earmarked $4.4 million for the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan and $170.4 million for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.