Misericordia opens new emergency department

The new emergency room will open at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton on Tuesday morning, tripling capacity and hoping to reduce strain on other emergency rooms.

The new emergency room at the Misericordia Community Hospital has opened to patients.

According to officials from Covenant Health, the $85 million project will increase capacity, providing care to three times more patients than when it was originally built. There were just 26 beds in 1969. There are now 64 care spaces built with 50 open Tuesday.

“The current emergency department is set up for 25,000 visits, this will have the capacity to do 60,000 visits in a year,” said Patrick Dumelie, CEO Covenant Health.  “So right now we’ve been averaging 50,000-55,000, so there is some additional capacity that can be added.  We’re not adding that capacity the first day, but certainly as the demand is there we will be working with government to get the necessary resources to increase that.

“So a lot more stretcher space, a lot more waiting space, a lot more treatment space. So that will definitely help move people through the ER in a more effective way.”

Dumelie says this new increased space will help flow and reduce pressure to treat patients who don’t need admission.

“Oftentimes we have an extreme issue with people who are waiting to be admitted into the hospital, occupying stretcher space in the existing emerge, which gives us huge difficulty in treating the patients who are waiting to come into the emerge,” he said.

Patrick Dumelie, CEO Covenant Health. (Adrienne South, CityNews)

Dumelie says there is also a separate mental health stream and lots of bright gathering spaces for families to congregate, focusing on mental well-being.

“Obviously when you’re in an emergency department, it’s a stressful environment and so to help take some of that stress away or have spaces where people can go and be with family or other things depending on what their care journey is,” said Dumelie.

“It’s truly remarkable. I think, if it’s not the best, it’s one of the best emergency departments in North America. We went from the most challenging infrastructure with the most amazing staff to probably the best infrastructure with the same amazing staff.”

Misericordia opens new emergency department. (Adrienne South, CityNews)

But while the new department brings excitement, doctors say there are still larger-scale issues at play.

“It’s a new resource that’s great, it’s beautiful, but that excitement is tempered by the fact that the whole department that they’ve built isn’t being opened immediately because of staffing shortages and the inability to have people look after everyone they could put in that new department,” said Warren Thirsk, the emergency medicine president with the Alberta Medical Association. “And that is an unfortunately reality across the entire province.

“Most emergency departments are short staffed by 20-30 per cent. Our physician resources, our nurses are understaffed by 30-50 per cent. And that means beds are being closed. Even if a bed exists, we have to close it because there’s no one to look after someone if we put them in that bed.

“And that’s leading to overall longer wait times and longer emergency department stays and overcrowding in our waiting rooms and overcrowding in our emergency departments.”

Thirsk, however, did greet the Misericordia emergency department opening with some degree of optimism.

“I think emergency medicine and the emergency community feels that we bear the brunt of everyone’s frustrating with the entire system’s shortfalls, so having a nice, new, shiny emergency department is good for morale for us to see there’s a little hope somewhere and that something is being done,” he said.

Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, says ideally the number of medical and surgical beds should also have been significantly increased.

“The new Mis ER will be a significant addition to the city,” said Gibney, from the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. “However its impact will be limited by the shortage of inpatient beds at the Mis and elsewhere in the city. Beds in the ER will rapidly fill up of patients waiting to be admitted to med/surg beds upstairs.”

As for the old emergency area, it will eventually be used for surge capacity, but won’t be staffed on the first day. They will also be moving patients over from the old emergency area to the new one.   

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