WINGHAM – Hospital wait times are a common complaint heard in coffee shops across Ontario, but a recent report from the Listowel-Wingham Hospital Alliance shows local hospitals are better off that the provincial average.
LWHA CEO Karl Ellis commented on the report presented to the hospital board at a recent meeting, which highlighted how the Listowel and Wingham hospital emergency department wait times compare to the rest of Ontario. Ellis explained that a patient’s experience in the emergency department starts as soon as they are brought in.
“Within an emergency department, patients come in and they’re triaged, and given a score of 1 to 5,” Ellis said, with 1 being the most critical. “The order in which people are brought into the emergency department is very much dependent on that grading.”
According to the report, 90 per cent of patients would spend less than two hours in the Wingham ER before being assessed by a physician, and three hours at the Listowel hospital.
“Our volumes are higher in Listowel, and there are more patients that come with less urgent conditions in Listowel,” Ellis said. “So those patients are going to have to wait, and that’s what drives the wait time.”
However, when compared to the numbers for small community hospitals and the South West LHIN, both hospitals are in line with the average wait time of three hours. The average wait time grows longer for the province at 3.2 hours, and 3.9 hours average wait time for across Canada.
Another comparator measured is the total time spent in the emergency department once a patient is admitted, which is about eight hours for Listowel and 9.2 hours in Wingham.
That number is small compared to the provincial average, with patients spending over a day in the ER at 33.3 hours, or 35.5 hours for the national average.
“This is where you start seeing hallway medicine impacting health care in Ontario,” said Ellis. “In Listowel, it’s about eight hours between the time you come in the door and when you’re in a bed.”
The community perception of hospital wait times is understandable, Ellis said, using the example of a mother attending the ER with a sick child and having to wait three hours.
“The reality is that emergency departments by their nature were set up to deal with acute health care issues and trauma,” he said. “For that patient the wait time feels long, but we’re set up to deal with the most ill patients first.”
Both Listowel and Wingham emergency departments are staffed with a single physician and two nurses, with average annual visits ranging from about 15,000 patients for Listowel, and 12,000 patients in Wingham.
“In our day to day operations, that is the staffing model we have,” Ellis said. “So if 20 people come after work with a sore throat and other minor ailments, we have one physician to work through that list of patients.”
Additionally, ER visits can spike for any reason, causing wait times longer than average on any given day.
“I think that’s important for the general public to understand, we don’t control how many people come in on that day,” Ellis said. “If that’s the day they come in, they might experience more of a wait.”
Smaller communities also have fewer health care options than larger centres, and Ellis said the first call for a health care concern should be to your family doctor to keep the emergency department moving.
“In small communities like this where family physicians also work in the emergency department, that’s why our emergency departments sometimes feel like a drop-in clinic,” Ellis said. “In a place like Kitchener-Waterloo you might have three or four options for primary care, but after business hours here, you might only have one option.”