A Manitoba couple say they want to bring awareness to long wait times at a Winnipeg hospital after separate experiences left them stressed, and in one case, still waiting for care.
“It’s starting to affect me psychologically,” Pat Richardson says of his stay at Health Sciences Centre, where he’s been for seven days since falling off a roof and breaking his ankle and crushing a vertebrae.
He says he spent all of two days in the emergency department waiting to be admitted, and has been on standby for surgery ever since.
“(I) can’t really eat because if you’re on standby you can’t have any water, you can’t have any food, so I’m on standby in the morning until roughly nine, 10 at night,” says Richardson, adding he’s lost about 12 pounds in a week.
“I get a bit to eat, then at midnight I have to stop everything again and see if they can operate on me the next day, and of course every day it seems to be cancelling and cancelling.”
Speaking from his hospital bed Friday, Richardson says he still doesn’t know when he’ll get surgery.
“I just need to get out of here. I need to get out of here for my health,” Richardson says.
“It’s crazy. I said, ‘You mean I could be here for a week?’ (and) they said, ‘Yeah, you could be here longer than a week.'”
His wife Susan calls the experience a “nightmare,” after herself spending 12 hours in HSC’s emergency nearly three weeks ago, waiting to be admitted for a burst appendix.
“(I was) throwing up like crazy, with a 10 out of 10 pain, and they wouldn’t even allow me to put my blankets on the floor to lie down when they refused me a bed; they threatened to call security on me if I didn’t get up,” Susan says.
Her surgery happened a day after being admitted, but Susan says she decided to discharge herself two days later over concerns with the care she was receiving.
“They were giving me so many T3s for the pain that I became hallucinating (sic) and I basically told them I was leaving. I said my husband needs to save me from this because I’m freaking out and nobody is noticing,” Susan says.
“I can’t speak to other hospitals, but two horrible experiences in the emergency at HSC over the last three weeks tells me that there’s a problem there.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) says officials are coming up with a plan to address wait times in emergency rooms and urgent care centres, which it says is due to a combination of issues brought on by the pandemic.
“Many COVID-recovered patients, for example, have been experiencing long stays in hospital, leading to increased challenges in admitting patients from emergency and urgent care departments into in-person units,” a spokesperson writes.
“In addition, the system continues to operate with new pandemic-related processes in place, such as COVID testing for patients who need to be admitted, as well as staff who have been redeployed or reassigned throughout our system.
“All of these factors taken together have led to increased challenges in moving patients through emergency and urgent care departments in recent weeks.”
The spokesperson deferred questions about surgery wait times to Shared Health, which did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, a longtime ER physician at St. Boniface Hospital, with over 30 years experience, tells Global News the past couple of weeks have been the “worst of my career” in terms of emergency room wait times.
“When I came on to work Tuesday morning at 7:30, there were 20-plus people in the waiting room. The first six people that were placed in treatment areas where I had access to them, the average wait was over 14 hours,” says Dr. Paul Doucet.
“It’s completely unacceptable and dangerous.”
The doctor added the burden primarily falls on nursing staff, creating a vicious circle of burnout where staff decide they need to leave because they’ve been put in a position to “fail continuously,” further exacerbating worker shortages.
“The present situation is a result of a complete lack of leadership at its highest level, both political and administrative,” Dr. Doucet says.
“The solution is relatively simple: we need to move patients who are destined for admission through a more effective, streamlined admission process and have access to in-patient beds outside the emergency department to move them in a timely fashion.
“Secondly, we need to support our nursing colleagues and listen to them.”
The WRHA spokesperson says the wait times are “top-of-mind for the region and currently represents the most pressing operational issue for WRHA.”
They write that as of June 27, 2021, the St. Boniface Hospital Emergency Department was experiencing a vacancy rate of 26.2 per cent, with 76 positions filled and 27 vacant.
Of the vacant positions, they say 17 were permanent and 10 were term positions.
“The department is actively recruiting nurses through open job postings, and will continue to do so until the positions are filled,” they write.
However, the anxiety remains for Richardson, who says he has the added stress of finding someone to preform a hernia surgery.
It was scheduled to happen earlier this week in B.C., but had to be cancelled because of the stay at HSC.
“If I paid my medical all my life, why wouldn’t the Canadian government have this thing working?” Richardson says.
“We paid all our lives.”