Wait times at Stevenson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room are better than the provincial average and the hospital is striving to make services even better, according to president and CEO Gary Ryan.
According to a provincial study released last week patients at the Alliston hospital spend 3.8 hours in the emergency room for minor or uncomplicated conditions. The provincial target for these patients is four hours in the ER. The Ontario average is 4.6 hours.
For people with more complex conditions such as heart attacks that require more time to be diagnosed, patients visiting SMH are spending 6.6 hours in the ER. The provincial target is eight hours, while the current average is 13.5 hours province wide.
Having a good patient turnaround speaks to successes in other areas of the hospital, said Ryan. He said hospitals that have the largest waits are places where there is a long list of people waiting for a long-term care bed.
“Our flow is better usually because we’re better at clearing up our beds,” said Ryan.
Re-opening the obstetrics unit last year also helped. Ryan said there are more beds for people who need to be admitted when the obstetrics unit isn’t busy.
With the provincial government tightening hospital’s budgets, Ryan is happy funding for improving ER services is separate.
“The ER is kind of the canary in the coal mine, it sees the problem but is not the cause of the problem,” said Ryan.
Over the past two years the province has offered two rounds of funding to improve ERs but Stevenson Memorial didn’t qualify. Ryan said he hopes at some point SMH will be given money for its ER to improve services.
In the meantime, the hospital has been approved for a new physician assistant program that Ryan said could help the flow of people through the emergency room.
The physician assistant (PA) program is just being introduced to Ontario. Their role is to conduct patient interviews, take medical histories, perform physical examinations and provide counseling on preventative health care. Ryan said a PA could also have the ability to set a fracture and cast a broken leg.
Although SMH has been approved for the PA program, funding hasn’t been confirmed. Ryan said the hospital has to sign on to the terms of the program by the second week of March.
To further improve ER services in the meantime, Ryan said they are looking at when the department is the busiest and are looking at having two physicians there then.
No matter how busy the local ER gets, Ryan doesn’t want people to hesitate to use it.
“I’d prefer to have a few people who maybe didn’t have to be there than dissuade people from coming,” said Ryan. “I’d be loath to suggest running our system in a way to discourage people to come.”
A comparison of emergency room wait times for all of Ontario’s hospitals is available online at .