'Is your urgency an emergency?': Windsor-Essex hospital officials appeal to public to reduce hospital and EMS wait times

With the hospital system in Windsor-Essex continuing to operate under tremendous pressure, healthcare leaders are asking residents to reserve calling 911 for emergency situations only, and to seek alternate care for non-medical emergencies.

“People are seeking their healthcare, for whatever illness it may be, and they're utilizing the emergency department to seek their healthcare instead of going to their primary care provider, or an urgent care centre or something else they're using the emergency department for that use,” said Essex-Windsor EMS Chief Bruce Krauter.

The increase in call volumes is leading to increased wait times for both ambulances and at the emergency department.

Windsor Regional Hospital has the longest ER wait times in the province, at an average of five hours.

“Although emergency cases are always attended to rapidly and receive immediate medical treatment, patients should expect that wait times and treatment for any ailments other than emergencies will be much longer than usual, as they have been for the past several weeks,” said a statement from Windsor Regional Hospital. “Ambulance response times for non-emergency situations may also be longer than usual.”

The number of code blacks has shot back up in recent months, according to Krauter, which means no ambulances are left to respond to true medical emergencies and reinforcements from Chatham-Kent have been called in to help offset the pressures.

That, Krauter said, combined with an increase in non-emergent surgeries to reduce the backlog, a lack of available beds and COVID-related staffing shortages is maxing out the healthcare system.

“Help us help you. Make sure we have capacity in emergency department. Seek the right care at the right place,” Krauter said.

Healthcare leaders are meeting regularly to discuss how to get more funding for beds in hospitals as well as outside the box solutions.

“I know that there's a lot of advocacy for more funding for urgent care centres and after-hours clinics and all of those types of things to take the pressures away from the emergency department,” he said.

Chief Krauter says ailments which do not require immediate medical attention shouldn’t end up at the hospital.

“Obviously, if you're having chest pain, shortness of breath, you feel lightheaded, if you have a history of cardiac or stroke, or any of those and you're feeling those symptoms, please do not hesitate to call 9-1-1,” said Krauter. “If you have fallen and you have a sore arm and it's obviously not broken, you don't need to call 911.

“If you're not feeling well, with a stuffy or strep throat and you need to seek some attention. Do you need the emergency department? Or can you go to a pharmacy and ask a pharmacist of what type of medication, over the counter, you can get to help you with your symptoms?”

The repercussions, Krauter said, can be a matter of life-and-death.

”The emergency departments would be so full that somebody coming in with a true emergency wouldn't be able to get seen,” he said.

If you are unsure whether you require emergency or urgent care, Essex-Windsor EMS has an online resource called “Make The Right Call.”

Information regarding potential non-emergency options are also listed at Windsor Regional Hospital and Erie Shores Healthcare’s websites, showing a listing of emergency department alternatives.