Overwhelmed Winnipeg emergency department leaves seriously sick, injured patients waiting for care

Staffing shortages, lack of readily-available hospital beds, and, as a result, lengthy wait times have plagued many Winnipeg emergency departments recently.

But the situation inside the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre this past weekend was dire, according to the nurses’ union.

“It was basically pandemonium this last weekend at HSC emergency,” Manitoba Nurses’ Union president Darlene Jackson told Global News.

“The waiting room was jam-packed, the ambulance bay where our EMS staff bring in patients to be seen was full and there was no movement. And once again, we had many, many individuals who were admitted on a stretcher in the emergency department and waiting on a bed in the facilities.”

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In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Shared Health said the HSC emergency department saw significant demand from seriously sick and injured patients over the weekend, often in very close succession.

“While the number of overall patients arriving in our ED over the weekend was not unusual, multiple simultaneous arrivals of extremely sick and injured patients drove up demand for our resuscitation beds,” the statement read.

“These multiple arrivals limited our ability to create additional treatment spaces. Staff reported the issue was most significant on Sunday night.”

The statement also noted that while staffing remains a serious challenge, staffing levels in the emergency department over the weekend were actually higher than in recent weeks. The Health Sciences Centre currently has a 20.1-per cent nursing vacancy rate throughout the entire hospital, according to Shared Health.

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“Patient demand of this nature cannot be predicted or planned for,” the statement read. “It is not a normal occurrence and added to the various, well-documented challenges the department currently faces relating to patient flow and nurse staffing levels.”

Dr. Candace Bradshaw, the president of Doctors Manitoba, says patients often wait in the emergency department for six or seven days before getting into a hospital bed, which creates a major backlog in emergency.

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She says it is frustrating and dangerous to both patients and health care staff.

“It tugs at your heartstrings in a way I can’t even describe, because you want to do your best for everyone,” Dr. Bradshaw said.

“And the longer the waits drag on, the lower the standard of care, and that’s just the way it’s going to go. And the more dangerous things become, and that’s the last thing that any of us want.”

The backlogs in the emergency department also result in numerous patients leaving without receiving care. According to the most data from Shared Health, in July of this year, 30.2 per cent of patients visiting the emergency department left without being seen by a medical professional, which is the highest left-without-being-seen rate in the past 12 months. A spokesperson for Shared Health noted that numbers for August 2022 are still being processed.

Jackson also says it’s tiresome and frustrating to nursing staff, who are unable to deliver the level of care they were trained to deliver.

“We have professional standards that we’re obligated to meet,” Jackson said.

“But if we’re not provided the staff or the resources to meet those, it puts nurses in a precarious situation.”

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