Winnipeg hospitals are reporting shorter wait times despite a hard hitting flu season.
Lori Lamont, vice president of nursing with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), said recent consolidation measures have helped emergency departments tackle the virus more effectively.
“We have seen over the last few weeks as many as 120 people in our acute care beds with either confirmed influenza or whose presentations were suspicious of influenza,” Lamont said.
“That’s a significant additional demand on our system, and I think had we not made the changes and not had the improvement in a number of areas, the impact would have been significantly worse.”
WRHA hospitals have reported a median wait time of 1.6 hours for December and the first half of January, down from 1.8 hours over the same period last year.
But not everyone is convinced the data shows the full picture of the health care system changes.
Sandi Mowat, who is the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said Friday that median wait times only tell half of the story.
“I’m not entirely sure that it went as smoothly as the WRHA is saying,” Mowat said.
“I’m not sure that those median wait times are reflective of the actual patient experience. I’m hearing the ERs were very crowded,” Mowat said. “I think we worry too much about those times and instead have to look at the system as a whole.”
This year’s flu season struck earlier and in higher numbers than years past.
When compared to data providing the full picture of last year’s impact, the WRHA said this year’s median wait times are 24 per cent lower than during the 2016/2017 season.
“We did see a spike in those wait times going up as flu season started to occur. That increase has not been nearly as significant as it was last year in flu season, which shows Feb. 2017 where we went up significantly,” Lamont said.
“We do believe that the changes we’ve made have made it possible to for us to mitigate the impact and keep that increase in wait time to a much more manageable level.”
To help manage its heavily taxed facilities, the WRHA postponed 97 non-emergency surgeries earlier this month to free up beds for flu patients.
Of those surgeries, 61 have since been rescheduled and 7 have already been completed.
Lamont said the early onset and sheer volume of cases seen so far this year means she – and the rest of the WRHA – is hoping the worst is over.
“While we know when flu season is, we don’t know when the impact is going to happen exactly in that four to six month time frame – and we also can’t predict exactly what the nature of the impact of the illness in our community will be on our health system,” Lamont said.