I-Team: Mainers frustrated by long waits in the emergency room

The I-Team heard dozens of complaints from Mainers wanting to know why it takes so long to see a doctor in the ER

STATEWIDE (WGME) - No one likes to wait and that's especially the case in a hospital emergency room.

When minutes matter why are Mainers spending more time in the ER than patients in other states?

The I-Team heard dozens of complaints from Mainers wanting to know why it takes so long to see a doctor in the ER.

According to our analysis of federal data, we found Maine patients are sitting on average from 25 minutes at a small hospital to more than 45 minutes at a busy, high volume hospital before seeing a healthcare professional.

Compare that to the nationwide average of 18 to 28 minutes.

Other than a little itchy under his casts, 8-year-old Preston Caron says his two arms are on the mend after he broke them jumping off a swing in September.

After an urgent visit to his doctor, and some x-rays, he was sent here to the emergency department at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

"It was wicked busy. People just kept coming in," said Preston's mom Jess Libby-Caron.

Emergency department records show Preston arrived a little after 6 p.m.

"He was in excruciating pain. He was crying," said Libby-Caron.

Preston described the pain as "like jabbing a fork in your leg."

They say they didn't get into a room and see a doctor until after 8 p.m.

"That I think was probably the worst thing I've ever dealt with as a parent because I could not take his pain away," she said.

Records show his arms were put in splints around 9:30 p.m. and they left the hospital about an hour later.

"It's always good for me to talk to those people first hand and try to understand their visit so we can continue our quality improvement processes and make it better," said Dr. Mike Baumann, chief of emergency services at Maine Med.

He says every patient is assessed by severity and things like broken bones while painful aren't time sensitive.

"The sickest patients are seen instantly. Sometimes the team is in the room preparing before you arrive," he said.

He said the average time a patient will spend in this emergency department before seeing a healthcare professional is now 35 minutes.

That's better than it was two years ago, 46 minutes, as reported to the federal government, but still higher than the nationwide average of 28 minutes at a very high volume hospital like this one.

"We constantly look at that number. I want that number 0," said Dr. Baumann.

Jeff Austin with the Maine Hospital Association says emergency departments are a difficult thing to manage.

"Because by their very nature workload is unscheduled. It can be quiet or it can be very, very busy," Austin said.

He said all Maine hospitals are dealing with the same thing. Several hospitals have closed, leaving fewer total emergency department beds.

He said families are also using emergency departments for behavioral health issues like mental illness.

"If you have one patient occupying a single bed for hours, day, sometimes weeks, you don't have that turnover. Behavioral health patients can often occupy more staff time than a broken arm patient would," Austin said.

Dr. Baumann said the hospital's planned $500 million expansion should help further reduce wait times.

While the expansion doesn't add any more beds in the emergency room, it adds inpatient beds, which will help move patients out of the emergency department more quickly.

Click here to find the average ER wait time for your hospital.

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