Sask. government spending $12M to improve ER wait times

The government of Saskatchewan is spending $12 million to reduce emergency department wait times, with a goal of cutting them by 60 per cent by 2019.

The 2017-18 provincial budget allocates the $12 million to reduce wait times, improve patient flow and to prevent hospital overcrowding. Hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon consistently have the longest wait times in the province.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Jim Reiter announced that part of the $12 million will go toward creating two additional accountable care units in the province.

The care units are collaborative health teams that work on a specific ward, and Reiter says they've proven successful so far. 

"Wait times are far too high, they're not where we'd like them to be," said Reiter. "With the success of programs like this, we think it can play a role."

A pilot ACU program at the Pasqua Hospital in Regina has reduced the time spent in hospital by patients on its ward by 15 per cent. Reiter says creating additional units will help the province reach its 2019 goal.

"It's shown that patients get out of the hospital quicker, get back home quicker, which obviously frees up more beds for more patients. Morbidity rates are down. It's just shown to be very successful," said Reiter.

Reiter added that there could be even more of the care units coming, contingent on the success of the recently announced units.

Collaborative hospital care

As part of the ACU pilot at Pasqua Hospital, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers, dietitians and pharmacists collaborate more frequently and give more information to patients. From Monday to Friday all members of the ward will be bedside with the patients, providing information, options and consultation.

"It's totally patient-centred," said Stef Ward, an LPN working on Pasqua Hospital's ward 4A, which was part of the pilot.

There are two doctors who are either on-call or on the ward at all times. Each doctor is responsible for 18 beds in the 35-bed unit.

"We can tell you exactly what time the doctor is going to come every day," said Ward, which she says often amazes patients.

Ward, having worked in other units, has experienced situations where 18 doctors may work with 18 patients — a system she said can lead to inefficiencies. 

"We're not spending all day trying to get ahold of doctors," said Ward. She remembers a specific day when a patient was sent for a test, and needed additional information from a doctor.

Usually, Ward said, that would result in an additional few days of waiting to hear back from a doctor and reissuing the test.

"I called up one of our hospitalists and I'm like, 'Hey, this is what's happening.' So he went down there talked to the department, he ordered the test and his patient had the test while he was down there."

Ward says that interaction shaved two days off the patient's time in the hospital.

She says nurses and doctors have been flocking to the ACU wards.

"The last posting 4B had, had over 70 applicants. Which usually in medicine is unheard of," said Ward.