COVID-19: The Ottawa Hospital sees longer wait times for ER and ambulance

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COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc and emergency department visits are taking longer than usual, Ottawa hospitals are warning.

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In a statement released Wednesday, The Ottawa Hospital said it was under “increased pressure” on its emergency departments and ambulance offload processes. COVID outbreaks and staff shortages due to COVID or exposure to the virus were among the reasons.

The nursing shortage was already a crisis and it’s exacerbating the problem, said Rachel Muir, president of the Ontario Nurses Association bargaining unit at The Ottawa Hospital.

“It’s worse than they say. I’m glad they’re making those statements because the wait times have been long for a long time. We see a lot of frustration with patients and their family members,” Muir said.

” Are you doing better ? Not at this stage. Is it getting worse? Hard to say. But it’s absolutely no better. Frontline workers see patients as quickly as they can. But there are only a certain number.”

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Queensway Carleton Hospital and Montfort Hospital also reported higher than usual wait times.

“The total number of patients coming in today, for example, was as high or higher than before the pandemic,” Ann Fuller, spokeswoman for Queensway Carleton, said on Wednesday.

Levels of “acuity” — the complexity and severity of cases — are also quite high, she said. Higher acuity cases tend to require a longer stay in the emergency department and more medical attention, or hospitalization.

At the same time, like many hospitals in Ontario, the Queensway Carleton is struggling with staffing shortages, Fuller said. This issue has been compounded by staff having to take time off work due to COVID-19 related isolation.

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Patients will be seen based on the severity of their illness or injury, hospitals say.

“If you need emergency care, you should keep coming to the emergency department,” The Ottawa Hospital said in a statement. “Patients will be triaged based on severity of illness or injury and some patients may have to wait longer.”

GenevaisVe Picard, spokesperson for Hôpital Montfort, said the Montfort emergency department is under pressure and urging members of the public to consider other options if their condition is not serious, such as a doctor from family, a walk-in clinic, a pharmacist or Health Care Access Ontario.

Meanwhile, delays in offloading ambulances to hospitals, high call volumes and staffing levels are affecting paramedic service levels, said Pierre Poirier, chief of the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

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Delays in offloading affect service, as paramedics have to stay longer in emergency departments. The paramedic service is working with hospitals to improve offload times and implement contingency plans to meet service demand, Poirier said.

While the daily new cases of COVID-19 reported by Ottawa Public Health are likely an underestimate of the true presence of the virus due to testing limitations, other numbers offer a picture of the continued presence of COVID-19 in the city.

On Wednesday, Ottawa Public Health reported four new deaths and four people in intensive care with active COVID-19 infections.

There have been 58 open outbreaks in health care facilities, including eight in hospitals, 14 in long-term care homes, 27 in retirement homes and nine in other facilities, such as group homes. There were also 99 confirmed COVID patients in Ottawa hospitals. Of these, 42 were hospitalized due to COVID infection and 57 were hospitalized for other reasons, but still tested positive.

Fuller praised the hospital staff for continuing to persevere and take on extra shifts and assignments.

“While COVID is under control, healthcare still needs healing – both the system itself and the people who power it,” she said.

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