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COVID wave raises wait times in Thunder Bay hospital emergency dept.


The waiting room is full at times, and priority goes to the most serious cases.

THUNDER BAY — The emergency department at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is seeing an influx of patients, driven at least partly by the spread of COVID-19.

In the last week or so, that’s led to a full waiting room on occasion, and longer stays than usual for patients with less urgent medical issues.

Over the last seven days, about 280 patients a day have visited the emergency department.

On Tuesday, it peaked at more than 290 patients in 24 hours.

The average number of daily patients last year was only about 200 – but since January that figure has been rising steadily each month, going from 196 to 242 a day in April.

“On top of that, we hit a record of 81 ambulance visits in one day,” said Adam Vinet, TBRHSC’s vice-president/Patient Experience. 

In an interview Wednesday, Vinet said patients with less severe illnesses should expect longer-than-normal wait times.

“No matter what the volumes are in the ED, patients are always prioritized based on a standardized triage system…including patients arriving by EMS. Higher-acuity patients are seen as a priority.”

Vinet said that in Ontario, the target wait time for non-urgent cases arriving at hospital emergency departments (from registration to triage, seeing a doctor, completing a required test, through to discharge) is four hours.

For higher-acuity patients, the provincial target is to discharge within seven hours, unless the patient requires admission to a bed.

Vinet didn’t have immediate access to current wait times in the hospital, but said the recent increase likely reflects the latest wave of COVID-19 in the community.

“Southern Ontario seems to be on the tail end of a sixth wave. However in our area, we have a high number of COVID-positive admissions.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, TBRHSC had 44 patients with COVID-19, compared with just 20 two weeks ago.

The emergency department can accommodate 90 patients, while the waiting room holds 40 people.

Vinet said that before coming to the hospital, patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms may choose to contact their primary health provider or Telehealth Ontario for advice on how to manage their situations, “as this seems to be a large portion of our volume currently.”





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