Winnipeg paramedics are waiting longer than ever in emergency rooms to offload patients, and that is costing health officials more money in penalties, CBC News has learned.
Last year, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service began charging the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) a penalty fee of $113 for every hour paramedics have to wait with their patients in emergency rooms beyond an allotted time.
That allotted time started out as 90 minutes when the penalty came into effect in April 2011, then it dropped to 60 minutes later that year.
According to city figures obtained by CBC News, paramedics waited a total of 539.46 hours in April 2011, costing the WRHA $60,958.98 in penalties.
But by May of this year, the total wait time tripled to a record 1,687.58 hours, resulting in $192,384.12 in penalties.
In the first six months of this year, the WRHA has paid the city $786,003.64 and paramedics have spent a total of approximately 6,892 hours, beyond the 60 minutes alloted, waiting to offload patients.
“We’ve had cases where paramedics have waited their entire shift at the hospital,” said Chris Broughton, a local paramedic.
Broughton said paramedics have spent too much time having to wait in emergency rooms instead of caring for people in the community, and the penalties were supposed to change that.
‘Something has to change soon’
Christian Schmidt, the acting deputy chief of emergency medical services, said offload delays are a problem that cannot continue.
“Something has to change soon, because the paramedic units need to be available to respond to the community,” Schmidt said.
“This is a problem that we really need to find a solution to quickly.”
Schmidt said the average wait time for paramedics last year was 64 minutes, while the average time this month has been 74 minutes.
The allotted wait time was supposed to drop to 30 minutes by April of this year, but both Schmidt and Broughton said there’s no way that could happen with current delay times being what they are.
“My biggest fear is is for the patients — everything from some of the kind of indignities that they face while waiting in a hallway for care, to the concerns that we have about running out of ambulances on a regular basis,” Broughton said.
A WRHA spokesperson told CBC News no one will be able to comment on the matter until mid-September.
Offload delay hours and billed amounts
(Source: Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service)
|Total billable hours||Total billable amount|
With files from the CBC’s Meaghan Ketcheson