Continued COVID stressors means hallway treatment for many ER patients: Head doctor

Click to play video: 'ER patients treated in hallways in Saskatchewan hospitals, doctor says'
ER patients treated in hallways in Saskatchewan hospitals, doctor says
Emergency rooms across the province are overwhelmed and overflowing. The head of provincial emergency medicine spoke to Nathaniel Dove about what's causing it and how it affects patients – Apr 16, 2022

Emergency rooms across Saskatchewan are busy and strained, according to the provincial head of emergency medicine.

The situation adds another level of stress for doctors, said Dr. James Stempien.

“When you’re examining someone in the back hallway, you can’t possibly be doing (it with) the same level of expertise that you could in a properly laid-out stretcher,” Stempien told Global News.

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Stempien said E.Rs have returned to their pre-pandemic levels, and more.

“Our wards are full upstairs, so because of that, we’re unable to transfer admitted patients out of the emergency department up to the wards upstairs.”

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The most recently available government data shows the rate of ER visits for patients with COVID-like symptoms is increasing, up 10.5 per cent over the prior week.

At one point on Saturday afternoon, 26 people in Saskatoon were “admitted no bed.”

“They’re supposed to be upstairs in one of the wards, but there is no bed for them to go to. So they’re going to spend time in the emergency department until there is a free space for them upstairs,” Sempien said.

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Saskatchewan government spends big on health care in Budget 2022

To add to the issue, Sempien said, there’s fewer staff to help.

“Over the last six months to a year, we’ve lost a lot of senior nursing staff because a lot of them have moved on (due to) the continuing stress of working in the emergency departments, due to COVID and other issues,” Sempien said

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Saskatchewan NDP health critic Matt Love questioned the health minister about the issue this week.

“Will the minister finally admit that our system is not okay, and provide support today to our overburdened health care workers,” Love said.

“We have created ICU capacity, a $21 million injection, and high acuity. We have our urgent care centre — the announcement just a week-and-a-half ago,” Merriman responded.

Stempien says there is no one solution but said masking and COVID-conscious behaviour would cut down on virus transmission and lower the numbers.

He also stressed that E.Rs are always open and ready to help, even if the help takes place in a hallway.

“The E.R. never closes. We always accept more patients, no matter who arrives, especially if they’re very sick, we’ll always make room for them,” Stempien said.

Read more: Saskatchewan NDP calls on government to do more to address children’s hospital capacity

He added E.R. staff are doing their “absolute level best” to handle the situation.

“The fact that people are waiting in the waiting room — that we’re examining people in the back hallway, that just shows how hard we’re working to try to get people seen and that we’re faced with a situation that is out of our control,” Stempien said.

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— with files from Global News’ Kelly Skjerven

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