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Northern Health warns of increased ER wait times at Terrace’s Mills Memorial Hospital

Northern Health asking for patience in face of staffing shortages
Wait times at Terrace’s Mills Memorial Hospital’s ER department could get even longer this summer. (File photo)

Northern Health officials are warning that there could be even longer wait times at Mills Memorial Hospital’s ER department this summer because of a physician and staff shortage.

Instead of two physicians on duty at any one time, there might be just one, said newly-named Northern Health President and CEO Ciro Panessa.

As it is, wait times are on the rise from last year to now, he added.

“We’ve gone from 60-ish to 80-ish visits a day with more on the 60-ish end versus the 80-ish end, but there have been days with just under 100 people,” Panessa added.

“We see the majority of the visits between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and there are times we don’t have our full staffing complement.”

The lack of staff has also meant patients may be transferred elsewhere to help cope with an increased workload in the ER.

The potential for longer wait times has Panessa asking people coming to the ER to be patient while awaiting service.

“I know it’s tough when people are in distress and needing help,” he said.

That’s not to dissuade from people in critical medical circumstances from coming to the ER, Panessa continued.

“But we are saying people can also use our virtual clinic,” he said.

Panessa said there are many factors as to why ER wait times are up and could go even higher.

One of the prime reasons is the lack of family physicians in the community and the fact that people without a family doctor turn to the ER instead for care.

“It’s fair to say that but really it’s a multi-factoral situation. There’s not just one root cause,” said Panessa of a critical lack of family physicians.

Data compiled earlier this year through Northern Health estimated that half the population of Terrace and area does not have a family doctor compared to one in four people elsewhere within the Northern Health region.

Based on ideal numbers, Terrace and area should have nearly 27 full-time equivalent family physians in Terrace and area compared to the nine to 11 full-time equivalent positions tallied earlier this year.

The lack of family physicians becomes even more critical as some will also work in the ER.

Panessa said there is some relief in sight for people without a family doctor as five physicians are expected to arrive this November and a further five next spring.

“That’s very good news and we’re optimistic” said Panessa of the 10 anticipated physicians. “We’re chipping away at the problem even if it doesn’t solve it.”

Two specialists are also expected to locate to Terrace soon, adding to a solid core of specialists now here.

Panessa said Terrace and area is fortunate to have more than 20 specialists working there, a number that exceeds the number of family physicians.

“Terrace is an anomaly outside of Prince George,” he said of the number of specialists.

About the Author: Rod Link

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