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Improving ER Wait Times in Manitoba: Idle No More?

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The Manitoba government recently announced that they were yet again going to significantly deal with the issue of ER crowding in Winnipeg hospitals. The target date for improvement is set for 2015. (Two more years of misery for the residents of friendly Manitoba!)

The problem is that Manitoba has been engaged in meaningless chatter on the same subject for the past twenty years with no improvement in two decades of examining the issue.

Let’s look at the history:

“Recommendations aim to improve delivery of emergency services in Manitoba” The Medical Post August 9, 1994

“A visionary Manitoba task force has concluded that a little common sense might help cure what ails delivery of emergency services in the province. The 140 page report was released only last month by Manitoba health minister Jim McRae. Among the report’s 220 recommendations are a number that will be hotly debated. The task force calls for limited hours of operation at some of Manitoba’s best known emergency rooms. Other suggestions include a revised walk-in system, block funding for emergency physicians, central bed registries, the creation of a health resources co-ordinating centre at WHSC…”

“Winnipeg’s emergency care goes on trial” The Medical Post May 5, 1998

“Dr.McKenzie, director of the Clinical Bioethics Centre at the Health Sciences Centre, believes chronic bed shortages at Winnipeg’s seven acute care hospitals have made it impossible for doctors to fulfil their ethical obligations to their patients. In the Grace Hospital, the corridors are jammed with patients on stretchers because there are no beds available on the wards said Dr. Ann McKenzie, an ER specialist and daughter to the bioethicist. Together they put the ethics of emergency care on trial by gathering a panel of specialists to discuss the appalling conditions of patients and physicians on ER wards due to budget cutbacks….But associate deputy health minister Roberta Ellis said the government will not inject any new capital until the Winnipeg Health Authority submits a plan to rationalize an unwieldy system.”

“Six month cure for ER backlog possible: expert” The Globe and Mail June 29, 2000

“Emergency room overcrowding could be eliminated within six months in Canada and at little cost. The keys are political will, a commitment to good management and a willingness to modify many parts of the health care system simultaneously, said Brian Postl, chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

He said that Manitoba has effectively eliminated the decades old practice of hallway medicine…..:last year, the Manitoba New Democrats campaigned with the promise to end hallway medicine within six months. When the party was elected, Dr. Postl was charged with making the pledge a reality.”

“Woman’s death to change emergency procedures” CBC Manitoba December 2, 2003

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority plans to change its emergency room procedures because an elderly woman (Dorothy Madden) died after waiting six hours to see a doctor at St. Boniface Hospital. Dr. Brock Wright, the chief medical officer for the WRHA says new rules are being developed about administering tests and reassessing patients waiting for care.”

“Some improvements are on the way at Winnipegs’s emergency rooms” CBC January 23, 2004

‘The province’s Emergency Care Task Force outlined its interim plan today but it will be several weeks before most of the changes become a reality. Jan Currie is VP of the WHRA and heads the task force. She says the task force received about a hundred calls from the public. About twenty of those concerned experiences with miscarriage…The Task Force has come up with improvements to reduce wait times and Currie says the WRHA will implement them all.

“Manitoba introducing fast lanes to cut down on wait times” The Medical Post October 12, 2004

‘Manitoba Health Minister Dave Chomiak has announced plans to cut down on waiting times in Winnipeg hospital emergency rooms by the introduction of fast lane services for patients with more minor problems.”

“WHRA announces changes after ER death review” The Winnipeg Free Press November 19, 2008

‘Systemic gaps in the emergency room triage process led to Brian Sinclair’s death. WHRA released findings of anadministrative review with five recommendations from a critical incident review.’

For twenty years the Manitoba government and the WRHA have been talking about fixing ER crowding and yet the problem remains. Their pronouncements have historically amounted to nothing more than idle chatter. There can be little optimism that the latest task force will change anything.

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