Fraser Valley ER wait times revealed (and they're not pretty)
Langley's ER had the longest discharge waits in the valley as times finally made public.
Fraser Valley residents can finally check online to see how long they can expect to wait in their local hospital emergency room.
Across the valley, it’s not uncommon for residents to travel to a hospital in another community hoping that it can provide timelier care than the facility down the street. But while Vancouver hospitals have posted their wait times for more than a decade, in the Fraser Valley, those decisions have largely been made on rumour and guesswork.
Now, amid warnings from doctors about the overloaded state of hospitals in Langley, Surrey and elsewhere, Fraser Health hospitals have been added to a website that shows predicted ER wait times.
You can see the latest wait times here. (Langley Memorial Hospital wait times were removed Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. We have asked Fraser Health why.)
In search of a short wait
Some emergency room visits are urgent emergencies where every minute counts and patients are triaged and receive immediate care.
But most of those who visit ERs have important, but less timely issues and can expect to wait for assistance in the region’s cramped and often crowded hospital emergency rooms.
Anecdotes have long circulated of Langley residents going to Abbotsford for treatment, of Abbotsford residents travelling to Chilliwack’s hospital, and of Chilliwack residents going to Hope. Or patients head the opposite direction, depending on the latest rumour about the state of the local emergency room.
(Hospitals operate on a triage system so those needing immediate care can expect to get treated quicker. Health officials are quick to point out that anyone with life- or limb-threatening health concerns should immediately visit their nearest ER or call 9-1-1.)
In general, pursuits of a less-crowded ER have been built on little more than innuendo and whispers. Vancouver’s hospitals have long had wait times posted online. But Fraser Health—the health authority that oversees facilities stretching from Burnaby to Hope—has not previously done so, despite the fact that its hospitals have often been the most-crowded in British Columbia.
On Tuesday, though, Fraser Health announced that wait times for some of its hospitals are now available. Facilities in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey, Delta and Maple Ridge now all have their wait times publicly listed. (Wait times for Mission Memorial Hospital and Fraser Canyon Hospital in Hope are not provided. The Current asked why those hospitals were omitted. Fraser Health did not respond by The Current’s deadline.)
Its announcement only came following a CTV story that revealed that wait times had been made available online.
The first look at ER times on Tuesday (they are updated every five minutes) revealed the disparity in care between communities and, especially, in the amount of time it takes to be discharged from an emergency room.
In Surrey, the wait time was nearly three hours just to see a doctor Tuesday morning. (By 1pm, the wait time was less than an hour). Hospitals in Abbotsford and Langley each had waits of just over an hour, while Chilliwack had waits of around 40 minutes. But while the time to see the initial doctor was relatively uniform within the valley, there were huge disparities in the length of time one expects to remain in the ER before being discharged. (Those admitted for overnight stays and not discharged aren’t counted in the statistics.)
In Chilliwack, patients could expect to leave within two and a half hours. In Abbotsford, that figure was around eight hours. In Langley, many ER patients spent nearly 16 hours in the hospital before being discharged. That figure is affected not just by the availability of doctors, but by the capacity of a facility and its staff to process tests and administer any necessary treatments. It also reflects the seriousness of the ailments being treated by a facility at any one time.
The figures suggest that for those who find themselves not needing do-or-die care, it’s currently better to head east than west.
The ER data comes amid a series of warnings from doctors that health care facilities in Surrey, Langley, and elsewhere are facing serious problems.
On Tuesday, CTV reported that a group of Surrey doctors wrote a letter warning about a lack of resources that, the physicians say, has led to the death of one newborn baby. Earlier in May, a Langley doctor warned that Langley Memorial Hospital’s emergency department was close to collapsing and that patients should seek treatment elsewhere. Doctors at hospitals in Burnaby and Port Moody have also raised concerns.
While the scale of the current concerns are new, the capacity problems in BC’s hospitals stem back more than a decade.
Six years ago, this reporter wrote that British Columbia’s hospital system had been operating over capacity since 2012. For years, many patients at Abbotsford Regional Hospital have had to wait as long as three days in a crowded emergency room because of a lack of beds elsewhere in the system. And Fraser Health administrators were warned more than eight years ago that a lack of capacity could compromise the health of patients. In 2019, health minister Adrian Dix acknowledged ARH had “extraordinary challenges.”
Fraser Health officials have long insisted they have a plan to fix the capacity issues that revolve around reducing the length of hospital stays by increasing care options in the community. Despite that the health authority has persistently failed to meet its targets. Residential care homes promised nearly a decade ago have yet to be built. And figures suggest capacity issues have only grown.
Last year, three quarters of patients who needed to be admitted to Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s ER spent more than 10 hours in the emergency department waiting for a bed. In Chilliwack the figures were even worse, with only 15% admitted within 10 hours.
Fraser Health says it is providing ER wait times now to allow “patients and families make informed decisions about accessing care.” Their release comes after a physician in Langley specifically suggested that patients look elsewhere for care. But given the proximity between Langley and Surrey, those heading from Langley to Surrey could find themselves in an even more clogged emergency room.
The release of the figures may be helpful for some patients. But it comes with a catch: if it’s heavily used and patients avoid the busiest emergency departments, those hospitals with lower wait times could expect to see demand for their services rise.
Until health authorities can actually address the roots of ER congestion, a website will only end up moving the problem around.