It’s not unusual for patients to spend nearly three days in the Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency room, according to a new report that shows long-standing congestion problems have yet to be solved and may, in fact, be getting worse.
One in every 10 admitted patients to the ARH ER last year spent more than 69 hours in the department before being moved elsewhere. The figure is a key indicator of hospital congestion, an issue that has plagued ARH for years and which experts say can be dangerous and lead to higher patient mortality.
And while a range of programs and procedures have been implemented to try to move people out of the ER after admittance, the new stats compiled by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) suggests things have not yet significantly improved and may be getting worse.
The time spent by the slowest 10 per cent of patients to move out of the Abbotsford ER in 2016/17 was the highest in five years, and higher than the Fraser Health, British Columbia and Canadian averages.
Although better than ARH specifically, Fraser Health as a whole has a markedly worse record than the B.C. average, which is worse than the Canadian number.
That nationwide average is just half of the ARH figure, meaning patients who spend the very longest in a typical Canadian hospital ER are moved along twice as fast as those in Abbotsford.
Fraser Health has been working for several years to address congestion, said spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell.
That includes setting up a committee to look at ways to improve the situation and working with family practice doctors.
Blackwell also noted that ARH ER patients see physicians sooner than the national, provincial and Fraser Health average, according to the CIHI report.
Ninety per cent of patients are seen by a doctor within 2.8 hours. But that figure – while still below average – rose considerably from 2015/16, when most patients were seen in 2.4 hours.
That increase is consistent with trends across both Fraser Health and British Columbia.
In Fraser Health, ER wait times have increased by more than 20 per cent over the last five years.
Patients also continue to die in ARH more than in other Canadian, B.C. and Fraser Health hospitals.
While slowly improving, ARH’s hospital standardized mortality ratio, which measures patient safety and controls for population factors, continued to be higher than regional and national averages.
Prior to 2014, the hospital had performed better than the Canadian average. But in 2014/15, hospital deaths in ARH jumped and remain well above average.
Blackwell noted the figure has been improving in recent years.
“For us, the important thing to know is that it is trending downwards,” she said. “We’re continuing to work towards lowering that number even further.”
ARH isn’t a laggard in all areas.
Patients at the hospital get access to hip fracture surgery quicker than elsewhere, fewer surgical and obstetrics patients need to be re-admitted, and in-hospital sepsis rates have significantly improved over the last two years and are now well below provincial, regional and national averages.
Major surgery is also safer, with ARH outperforming averages in Fraser Health and across B.C. and Canada.