In the morning of May 13, 2016, local resident Heidi Piltz tripped and fell while walking in the woods near her property in the Southside.
“I landed hard, face down,” she described. “I am in my 60s, so I don’t bounce as well as I used to.”
That same morning, Piltz went to the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre’s emergency room hoping to get an X-ray.
“I arrived at the emergency entrance in Burns Lake around 9 a.m., and was astonished to see almost every seat [in the emergency] filled,” she said. “It appeared there was only one doctor available, and he was really pleasant, but clearly moving at top speed, trying to deal with each patient thoroughly and effectively, while the lineup grew longer.”
Piltz said she waited three hours until she was taken into a different room. She then waited another hour before she could get an X-ray, and she was discharged from the hospital at 2 p.m.
“My entire stay was five hours before I was sent off with a prescription for painkillers,” she said. “Good people, great facility, but I’d hate to have a serious accident in Burns Lake; it shook my trust in our medical care in the north, for sure.”
According to Jonathon Dyck, a spokesperson for Northern Health, a person’s wait in the emergency room can vary depending on a number of factors, including the number of people in the emergency room and the acuity of their current state.
“The emergency department is for urgent or sudden changes in health, and priority to patients is based on a triage system that evaluates the patient’s needs,” he explained. “It is not a first come, first serve service.”
Dyck added that staff monitors the emergency waiting area to see if people’s conditions may have changed and if they need to be triaged again.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the average wait time in B.C. emergency departments – from the time patients arrive until they are assisted by a physician – was 2.7 hours in 2014/15. The national average is 3.1 hours.
According to CIHI data from 2012, compared with countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Canada had the highest percentage of patients waiting four hours or more in emergency rooms before being treated.
Efforts to recruit more physicians to work in Burns Lake have been ongoing for several years. There are currently five physicians and two nurse practitioners working in Burns Lake, and they are supported by locum physicians.
Northern Health is currently trying to recruit three more physicians.
“We will continue to work with community partners to recruit physicians to the community,” said Dyck.