Officials at Erie Shores HealthCare are reporting a sharp increase in emergency department visits.

Since April 1, 2018, ESHC has seen ED volumes increase. The hospital in Leamington is on track to see a 15 per cent increase or almost 37, 000 ED visits in 2019-2020.

“We have had an increase in patient population in the area as well as the migrant worker population,” says Kristin Kennedy, vice-president of patient services and chief nursing executive. “In addition, our patients have little resources for urgent care clinics and family health team access.”

Officials say the increase is partly due to a 45 per cent increase in EMS volumes, a new catchment area encompassing the majority of the county and increasing demands on the emergency department due to lack of primary care.

“Our hospital has invested $1M of additional front line resources in light of the growth we have seen at ESHC,” says CEO Janice Dawson.

Dawson says the staff and physicians are doing an amazing job to not allow this significant increase in their workload impact the quality of care being delivered to our patients.

“Myself, ESC LHIN and the MOHLTC continue to collaborate and work towards right sizing our funding with the experienced and anticipated growth,” says Dawson.

The increased volume sees Erie Shores Healthcare operating at 100 to 127 per cent capacity every day and now the hospital is making its case to the province for more money to help meet that demand.

“The burden is great on the patients and the families and on the staff and the physicians as well, so we are looking to expedite any resources and financial help we can get,” says Kennedy.

As a result of increasing ED visits, ESHC has also experienced increased acute occupancy rates that in 2019-2020 have averaged 106 per cent.

“Our physicians and staff have embraced the increased ED and IP volumes are committed to continuing to elevate our patient safety and quality,” says Kennedy.

The Annual General Meeting highlighted increased growth and anticipated growth at ESHC over the upcoming year. Beginning in October 2018 ESHC began to see steadily increasing ED volumes.

Along with the increase in ED volumes, Erie Shores officials say they have seen significant increases in the acuity of patients and the need for admission to hospital.

ESHC officials say they are ranked number 1 in the province in the time it takes to get admitted patients out of the ED and into an inpatient bed.

Windsor emergency visits slide, patients sicker

The Emergency Department at Windsor Regional Hospital is also reporting an increase in more severe illnesses, but overall has seen a 2 per cent dip in visits.

Part of the solution appears to be greater access to family health teams.

“People are more often going to primary care providers like the Windsor Family Health Team,” says Jonathan Foster, Director of Mental Health at WRH. “They've done a lot of great work, our partners, to make sure that primary care is more accessible — sometimes same day or next day appointments.”

Foster says greater access to primary care is crucial in alleviating the burden on the emergency department.

However, he stresses opioid and mental health-related visits are taking up more time.

“From a mental health lens what it also speaks to is that there is a need for more support in the community. More ready access for services in the community,” says Foster.