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Consider care options for non-emergency concerns to relieve pressures on our EDs

Posted May 25th, 2022

Our Emergency Department (ED) staff and physicians are working hard to serve all patients with safe, quality care in a timely manner. EDs are a very dynamic environment and things can change quickly depending on the urgent needs of patients. Critical patients are seen first, whether they arrive on their own or by ambulance.

Niagara Health’s ED program is the busiest in our Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Burlington Brant region and the fourth busiest in Ontario.

We recognize that waiting can be difficult and stressful for our patients and families and appreciate people’s understanding and patience. Our staff and physicians are short-staffed as a result of the pandemic, and they are dealing with high volumes of patients with complex needs.

There are also a number of factors outside the hospital that contribute to ED wait times. We care for patients for non-emergency matters in our ED because they do not have access to a family doctor or other primary care provider as the region is short 95 family physicians. On any given day, we have up to 100 patients waiting in hospital beds for services to become available in the community, including home care and long-term care settings. The long-term care sector in our region has lost more than 400 beds as a result of new pandemic protocols. This means patients remain on stretchers in the EDs, where they are cared for by our staff and physicians while they await beds to become available. This, in turn, leads to longer wait times for our paramedic colleagues to transfer their patients to the hospital ED team. In April, for example, most patients who required admission from our ED to an inpatient bed waited about 91 hours for that bed. Our paramedic colleagues cared for patients they brought to our EDs for 3.5 hours before being able to transfer them to the care of our ED team.

We have introduced a number of initiatives to improve patient experiences and reduce wait times, and we value our close working relationship with Niagara Emergency Medical Services (NEMS) and other partners. Among the more recent initiatives:

  • Adding 107 beds to support patient flow in the hospital during the pandemic and assist with patient transfers from paramedics to our ED team.
  • Introducing a new virtual urgent care to reduce unnecessary ED visits and better serve patients with non-emergency needs who do not have access to a primary care provider.
  • Creating stronger connections between the hospital team and primary care providers in the community to reduce ED visits and hospitalizations. When SCOPE Niagara launches next week, family physicians and other primary care providers will have direct access to Niagara Health specialists and home and community care navigators for clinical advice and consults.
  • Actively recruiting ED-trained nurses to join our team and supplementing current nursing staff with other members of our team so that nurses can dedicate themselves more to direct patient care.  
  • Educating about healthcare options so Niagara residents knows where to seek care in the community in non-emergency situations and avoid an unnecessary ED visit.

We are committed to our work with NEMS to find solutions that will improve the time patients are waiting to be transferred into the care of our ED doctors and nurses.

We recognize more needs to be done, and we will continue to actively seek solutions to improve care for our patients and families.

Niagara Health System