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Emergency Rooms

Winnipeg ERs urged to implement more staff and computer systems

WINNIPEG – Winnipeg’s seven hospital emergency rooms require more staff, additional training and enhanced computer equipment, according to a task force that was established after the death of a woman who had waited six hours to see a doctor.

“We need to look at all our processes ... and take a look at the whole system,” task force chair Jan Currie told reporters at the end of August. “There’s no single solution to this issue.”

The Emergency Care Task Force emerged following a handful of high-profile tragedies in city hospitals, including the death last year of 74-year-old Dorothy Madden.
Madden went into cardiac arrest after waiting six hours in an emergency room to see a doctor. She had suffered a heart attack three days earlier and was not examined following her initial assessment upon entering the hospital.

In January, 20-year-old Melissa O’Keefe suffered a miscarriage in an emergency room after waiting almost four hours to see a doctor. Like Madden, O’Keefe had not been re-assessed following her initial screening. Among the task force’s 46 recommendations is a call to have reassessment nurses in all emergency rooms to keep an eye on patients – something that is now under way as a pilot project in three hospitals.

“The purpose of that role is to make sure that patients are cared for while they are in that waiting period,” said Currie, who is also vice-president of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Other recommendations include:

• Hiring nurse practitioners to speed up the handling of patients with less-severe problems. Nurse practitioners can provide drug prescriptions and other services that registered nurses cannot.
• Hiring more ambulance workers to transport patients between hospitals.
• Offering diagnostic imaging services after hours.
• Hiring discharge facilitators to help free up hospital beds that are being used by people waiting to return to their homes.
• Purchasing new computer equipment to better keep track of patients’ medical histories and to monitor how long patients are waiting in emergency rooms.
• Enhancing training for emergency department staff, including off-site education programs.

The task force did not determine a final cost for its recommendations, but Currie indicated it would likely total several million dollars. “The report itself doesn’t recommend immediate implementation of all of its recommendations,” Health Minister Dave Chomiak told reporters.

“I think it very wisely states that some of the recommendations have to be put in place before other recommendations can be put in place. But the short answer – are we implementing the report? Of course. That’s why we’re keeping the task force ongoing to continue monitoring and evaluating the situation.”
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