A memo sent to staff in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Friday is outlining the dire situation in Winnipeg’s urgent care and emergency departments and the factors driving wait times higher.
“There are several causes for this, but together they have led to significant increases in wait times over the past few months,” WRHA CEO Mike Nader said in a press conference late Monday afternoon.
Around 1 p.m. Monday, the shortest wait time in the city was five hours at the Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital, while the longest was more than seven hours at St. Boniface Hospital.
Many factors driving up wait times noted in the memo were fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, including higher-than-normal levels of COVID-19 positive patients, patients who avoided seeking care earlier in the pandemic now requiring more and longer medical care, patients staying longer while they wait for the results of a COVID-19 test, and staff sick time levels reaching historic highs.
Nader was asked during the press conference if more stringent COVID-19 restrictions, such as mask mandates and vaccine requirements, would help alleviate pressure on the healthcare system.
“I think the challenges are multi-faceted, I don’t think any one thing is going to address that,” Nader said. “We know that the latest variant is quite transmissible, but I do think that the work that we’re doing with our care teams around transitions and opportunities to find solutions is how we’re going to get out of this. No one thing is going to fix this.”
The memo also details potential solutions the health authority is working towards, including changing ambulance protocols to redirect less serious patients to urgent care instead of emergency, starting a pilot to test new patients for COVID-19 in emergency and urgent care departments, and refining the virtual outpatient program and inter-region transfer protocols.
“The process is really for enabling or distribution of care, so when we have emergency rooms or urgent cares that are maybe not as busy as the others, the paramedics will assess the patients they are picking up and they will direct them to the most appropriate site that has the shortest wait time,” Nader explained.
“So what we’re doing there is distributing the care needs across our urgent cares and our emergency rooms.”
When asked what the province is doing to address the growing emergency department wait times, Health Minister Audrey Gordon deferred to the WRHA CEO.
“I hope it’s addressed very, very soon,” Gordon said.
“One of the things I’m doing is insisting that they fix it. So that they look at the various options that are available, that they’re talking to the staff in the emergency departments. Sometimes, as we say, the best ideas come from the hospital floor.”
Opposition leader Wab Kinew says the issue of wait times is nothing new.
“The PCs created the crisis in our emergency rooms and now they want us to believe that they’re going to fix it,” Kinew told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re still motivated by the same thing that made them create this crisis in the first place, which is that they’re putting money ahead of care and they’re reducing the number of beds across the systems. Again, we saw issues in emergency departments before the pandemic, the system was already in crisis before COVID hit.”
A frustration shared by the president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve been talking about this for years, it continues to be a really basic staffing issue,” Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz told Global News, adding that the staffing issues are widespread in all aspects of healthcare, and not just with doctors and nurses.
“Government has been turning a complete deaf ear to what we’ve been saying for years,” he added. “I also continue to be frustrated they blame it on the pandemic. The pandemic is showing where the staffing issues are, but it is not responsible for the staffing issues. We have been hurdling towards this crisis for years.”
Manitoba Nurses Union also says increased wait times often leads to increased patient frustration.
“If there is patients that are frustrated or angry, it’s nursing staff that are taking the brunt of that,” MNU president Darlene Jackson said.
Jackson said the WRHA memo that went out was disappointing.
“We’re a little tired of having everything blamed on COVID, on the pandemic,” she said.
“We are in a critical nursing shortage and we’ve been predicting this nursing shortage for years.”