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Wait times at local hospitals are above state, national average

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark editor

Data released by watchdog group ProPublica revealed wait times at local hospital emergency rooms are above the national and state average.

And from one woman's experience even after she was admitted by a physician, the additional wait time before being transferred out of the ER to a private hospital room exceeded 20-hours.

What started as a typical Halloween night consisting of trick-or-treating with grandchildren quickly turned life-threatening for 62-year-old Janice McCarty of Platte County.

While visiting with her six-year-old grandson, Christian, who was dressed as an emergency room doctor, Janice suddenly felt ill and began bleeding.

Unbeknown at the time, Janice was enduring severe bleeding originating from diverticulosis, a condition of the colon. Her husband of 40 years, Mike McCarty, rushed her to Saint Luke's Northland Hospital at about 6 p.m.

In a matter of minutes upon their arrival, Janice was seen by a medical practitioner. Due to her severe and life-threatening condition, Janice was admitted into the hospital to undergo a medical procedure.

But five and a half hours ticked by and Janice was still stuck in a glass thin partitioned ER room buzzing with new arrivals and a toilet that merely flipped out of a low-lying cabinet.

“When I asked about being moved to a regular hospital room, I was told I would be moved as soon as one became available, which was likely the following day,” said Janice.

Stiff from laying in the transitional ER bed and agitated from being prohibited from smoking a cigarette, Janice decided to flee the partitioned room against the hospital staff's recommendation to stay put.

But as soon as she reached the comfort of her living room her condition worsened.

“She became ghost white and there was blood all over,” her husband said.

Mike frantically dialed 9-1-1 and rushed his wife back to the hospital. Upon arrival, Mike shouted to the nurse 'my wife is losing consciousness and needs immediate medical attention for severe blood loss.' Perturbed that the patient left in the first place, a nurse quibbled with Mike for several minutes, prompting the involvement of security.

Moments later when all parties settled down, Janice was readmitted into the ER at about midnight, where she remained until 3 p.m. the following day. The 20 and a half hours in the emergency room that dragged along after being admitted seemed endless.

“I felt elated when we were moved upstairs to a room with a private lavatory,” said Janice.

Unfortunately, patients have no control over how long they will spend in the emergency room before being seen by a doctor or the remaining wait time spent in an ER room before a room becomes available.

But data on average wait times and patient ratings are made available by ProPublica, a non-profit news organization. The watchdog group gathers data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and organizes it into an online database that allows users to see patient wait times in the ER at hospitals in their area.

Wait time is calculated from when a patient enters the hospital until he or she is seen by a qualified medical doctor.

The ER is not a place where it is first come, first served. The severity of the patient's condition determines how quickly the patient is ushered into a room to be seen by a medical physician.

Even though experts say there is a miniscule difference between hospitals for wait times that affect real world scenarios, patients want to be seen as soon as possible, especially for severe blood loss and excruciating pain.

Based upon data collected between April 2013 and March 2014, Saint Luke's Northland Hospital had an average wait time of 32 minutes. That is longer than the state average of 23 minutes and the national average of 28 minutes.

In comparison, several urban medical facilities have a shorter average wait time. Research Medical Center has an average wait time of 9 minutes; Saint Luke's Hospital has an average wait time of 24 minutes, and the University of Missouri Healthcare has an average wait time of 17 minutes.

In addition to average wait times, statistics are compiled for three emergency room outcomes including: getting sent home, administered pain medication for a broken bone or being admitted into the hospital.

When it comes to transferring an admitted patient to a room, Saint Luke's Northland Hospital takes an average of 10 minutes longer than the national average of 96 minutes and 26 minutes longer than the state average of 80 minutes, according to ProPublica.

In the scenario of when a patient arrives with a broken bone and must wait for pain medicine, Saint Luke's Northland Hospital beat the national average wait time by 10 minutes and the state average by five minutes.

In the category of patients who remain in the emergency room before being sent home, Saint Luke's Hospital patients on average were kept four minutes longer than the national average and three minutes longer than the state average.

Despite these above average wait times, 74 percent of patients at Saint Luke's Hospital said they would “definitely recommend” the hospital.

Mike McCarty said he is relieved his wife was immediately seen by a physician upon their arrival at the ER. Still, he would have liked for her to have been transferred out of the partitioned emergency room and into a more private room with an adequate bathroom facility in a timelier fashion.

“Based off my wife's experience at Saint Luke's Northland Hospital, I think the hospital needs more rooms to meet the growing needs of the community,” said Mike.

The Saint Luke's Health System acknowledges the rise in the number of patients using the emergency services and those requiring inpatient care.

“Saint Luke's North Hospital also has experienced an increased volume of inpatient admissions, which at times has resulted in admitted patients remaining in emergency department (ED) facilities until an open bed became available,” said Matt Wenzel, CEO of Saint Luke's Northland Hospital.

“Earlier this year the hospital began a renovation project to address this need, and in December 2016 six additional inpatient beds will open, with an additional six beds scheduled to open in Q2 (the second quarter of) 2017. These additional beds will help relieve the pressure in the ED,” Wenzel said in response to an inquiry from The Landmark.

“Since 2014 Saint Luke's North Hospital has experienced a sizeable increase in the number of patients using our Emergency Department (ED). Patient satisfaction is important to us, and keeping our wait times to a minimum is a priority,” he added.

While struggling to meet the rising bar, the hospital is making notable changes.

“Since the beginning of this year we have implemented several new processes to move patients through the ED more quickly, while still providing the highest quality care,” said Wenzel.

“We have also added leadership and staff, including a throughput coordinator to focus solely on improvement initiatives and patient satisfaction, two additional clinicians to provide patient care in the ED, and a physician in our medical group to assess patients in our walk-in clinic. For busy hospitals, such as ours that are committed to the highest levels of patient care, this is always a work in progress,” Wenzel remarked.

“We at Saint Luke's North greatly value every patient we serve, and providing them with an exceptional patient experience is what we strive to do every day. This is true at all times, and especially during these times of growth,” said Wenzel.


Two additional Northland hospitals also had an average wait time above and beyond the state and national level, including Liberty Hospital (32 minutes) and North Kansas City Hospital (27 minutes), according to ProPublica.

Distinct from Saint Luke's Northland Hospital, Liberty and North Kansas City hospitals have a Level 2 Trauma Center, which are equipped with seriously fast-track emergency services to handle life-threatening conditions.

For acute illnesses that happen over the weekend, Liberty Hospital and North Kansas City Hospital have urgent care facilities that treat a wide variety of conditions, including bee stings, strep throat and sports injuries. The urgent care facilities don't require an appointment and have extended hours of operation.

“Those are all things that are being done to speed up the access in the hospital and within the emergency room,” said Julie Simpson, director of marketing and public relations at Liberty Hospital.