ER wait times: How long will it take?

Topeka (KSNT) –  When you or a loved one is really, really sick or injured….you want them to get medical care quickly.

So, you go to the emergency room.

But as KSNT News’ Cristina Frank found out….a Topeka woman was told she went to the wrong place.

In most cases, when you go to the ER, you can expect a wait.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Hospital Compare, the national average for a patient from when they step foot into an ER until they are seen by a healthcare professional – is 24 minutes. That date is from April 2013 through March 2014.

But what surprised a patient at a Topeka hospital wasn’t the time it took to see a doctor…..but that the doctor said gambling may have been better.

“They thought she was going to die from a heart attack in the waiting room,” Carol Wilson said.

Scary moments for 84 year old Ronalda Athon and her daughter Carol.

Back in late December, breathing problems brought the grandmother of 14 into the emergency room at St. Francis Health in Topeka.

After waiting 90 minutes….they finally saw a doctor.

“The doctor was shocked and he called other doctors. And everyone who came in said, ‘is that really her heart rate?’ ”

She was admitted.

Then five days into the hospital stay…Carol says she was shocked when a senior doctor told her…

“She would have been better off at the casino than in the waiting room of the ER,” Wilson said.

That’s because…

“The way casinos are set up, if you pass out or have a heart attack…that emergency care is right there,” Wilson said.

KSNT News reached out to St. Francis Health for an on-camera interview.

Instead – St. Francis Health Director of Marketing, Amy Owens, sent us this:

“Our average emergency wait times are less than 30 minutes…Out of respect for patient privacy, we cannot discuss individual patients. We thoroughly review and evaluate all patient concerns brought to our attention…”

But….how do our northeast Kansas hospitals compare to the rest of the nation?

The overall statewide average is 17 minutes.

Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan meets that.

Stormont-Vail HealthCare clocks in at 18 minutes.

St. Francis Health comes in at 29 minutes.

All this data is compiled in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Hospital Compare from April 2013 through March 2014.

But those times all depend on 1 thing: available beds.

Manhattan’s Mercy Regional says its busiest time is on the weekends.

“An evening time frame, 5 o’clock to maybe 10-11 o’clock,” Mercy Regional Health Center’s Director of Emergency and EMS Services Larry Couchman said.

For Stormont-Vail, it’s Sunday through Tuesdays.

St. Francis Health in Topeka declined to give us their information.

To keep wait times low….Stormont-Vail is testing a program called Rapid Medical Evaluation.

It separates all the patients based on the severity of their illness or injury.

The goal is to move these patients through the system in 90 minutes.

“Instead of having 1 bed tied up with 1 patient….we have a couple rooms where we might have 4-5 patients going through simultaneously,” Stormont-Vail HealthCare’s Medical Director of Emergency Department Michelle Schierling said.

Stormont-Vail and Mercy say their ER data gives patients an idea of how long they can expect to wait….but it’s not a guarantee.

“You don’t know what is coming in the backdoor: for example, ambulance, patients,” Stormont-Vail HealthCare’s Administrative Director of Emergency and Trauma Services Angela Gamber said.

For that reason, both hospitals urge patients not to count on recorded averages or use apps that estimate wait time.

After more than a week at St. Francis Health, Ronalda was discharged.

She’s healthy and back at home…but her daughter say if it happens again….

“She doesn’t gamble….but maybe next time, I’ll run her to the casino first,” Wilson said.

While it’s becoming a national trend, neither Stormont-Vail nor Mercy have an app or website where people can get an estimated wait time.

And both hospitals say when it comes to who is seen first in the ER, it’s based on what’s wrong….not when you walked in the door.

While we checked the ER wait times of the three major hospitals in northeast Kansas, that information for smaller medical centers all over the country is also available online.

You can access those reports – by clicking here. 

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