ER wait times in P.E.I. once again being posted online

·4 min read
Last July, Health P.E.I. pulled the wait time website and screens in the ER because of COVID-19. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Last July, Health P.E.I. pulled the wait time website and screens in the ER because of COVID-19. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Health PEI is once again posting emergency department wait times online and in Prince Edward Island hospitals.

Last July the organization that oversees health care services in the province pulled the wait-time website and monitors in the ER's at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, Prince County Hospital in Summerside and Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague, because of COVID-19.

At the time officials said the screening of potential COVID-19 patients made the boards inaccurate, noting emergency departments were divided between those with respiratory symptoms and those without, which would have required two wait lists.

Officials also raised concerns that some people, even those with serious health conditions, were looking online at wait times and choosing not to go to the hospital.

'What they may be facing'

Corinne Rowswell, acting executive director of hospital services with Health PEI, says the public wanted wait times back online.

Corinne Rowswell, acting executive director of hospital services with Health P.E.I., says the public wanted the wait times back online.
Corinne Rowswell, acting executive director of hospital services with Health P.E.I., says the public wanted the wait times back online. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"I think the emergency department wait times are [an] important information source for the public, so that they know if they do need to visit an emergency department across P.E.I. that they know what they may be facing in terms of the wait time for various conditions that they may have," said Rowswell.

"I think they were taken down primarily because our emergency department staff were concerned that people wouldn't want to visit the emergency departments because of COVID."

Opposition health critic Trish Altass said the concerns from last year when the wait times were removed haven't changed.

"It's interesting to see this sort of flip-flop on the ER wait-time posting," said Altass.

'Want people to seek care if they need it'

Altass said the real issue is how long people are waiting in hospital emergency rooms, and why.

Opposition Health Critic Trish Altass says the real issue is how long people are waiting in hospital emergency rooms.
Opposition Health Critic Trish Altass says the real issue is how long people are waiting in hospital emergency rooms. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"The ERs are used as a catch-all for health-care services, because people simply don't have access to the primary health care services that they need," she said.

Wait times had been listed on monitors in hospital waiting areas in P.E.I. for more than 10 years. The idea was to try to reduce wait times and give patients up-to-the-minute information on how long they might have to wait for treatment, to cut down on people leaving in frustration.

Wait times are updated on average every five minutes, but can change without notice.

Rowswell said there is still some concern about people not accessing services because of potential long wait times, which is why the wait-time website also outlines situations in which people should come to the emergency department.

"We do definitely want people to seek care if they need it, particularly if they are having an urgent or emergent condition that requires care in an emergency department."

'Improve our patient flow'

Wait times last week were more than 10 hours for some services at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Health PEI says COVID-19 made the wait time screens in Island hospitals  inaccurate, noting the emergency department was divided between those with respiratory symptoms and those without, which would have required two wait lists.
Health PEI says COVID-19 made the wait time screens in Island hospitals inaccurate, noting the emergency department was divided between those with respiratory symptoms and those without, which would have required two wait lists. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But on Monday wait times were down to three or four hours for less urgent conditions. Wait times for the most urgent cases were less than an hour.

Rowswell admits wait times can be too long, and reminded patients they can access care through family physicians, walk-in clinics and 811.

"The other thing that we're trying to do is to improve our patient flow, so that people are seen quickly in the emergency department — they're either admitted if they need to be admitted or they are discharged home with services," she said.

She pointed to the province's plans for a new primary care strategy that would see pilot projects in three communities of "medical neighbourhoods," as well as money for seniors in last week's federal budget that could free up hospital beds and ER backlogs with more nursing-home beds. Some parts of a planned new mental health and addictions campus are also scheduled to begin this fall, and could reduce pressure on the QEH next door.

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