Ever complained about the wait times at emerge? You may want to make sure you’re not contributing to the problem.

Despite having some of the best wait times in Ontario, STEGH’s new emergency department can still get a little backed up sometimes. The problem gets significantly worse over the holidays, when there is a 10% increase in total emergency department volumes, according to the South West Local Health Integration Network (South West LHIN).

STEGH st. thomas

There are a couple reasons for the higher demand for emergency services in the two week period surrounding Christmas and New Year’s. Influenza and seasonal injuries like fractures are common in the winter. When that is combined with doctor’s office closures during statutory holidays, emerge visits and wait times rise.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Or, at least, not as bad.

Dr. Gordon Schacter, South West LHIN, London Middlesex Clinical Lead, says that appropriate use of the emergency department would make a significant difference in wait times. Many people visit emerge for conditions that are better treated by their family doctor or a walk-in clinic, such as upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, or simple sprains. Colds, flus, and minor injuries – all of which increase in the winter – should not be addressed at emerge at all. 

know where to go south west lhin
A public awareness campaign – #KnowWhereToGo – has been launched to promote the Southwest Health Line’s Holiday Hours page, which features resources that are open and available during statutory holidays.

Dr. Schacter also wants to emphasize that although there are closures during the holidays, your doctor should still be available for most of that period. He states, “I think over the holidays people assume that from the 24th to the 2nd that nobody’s around, but there is still an obligation for most practitioners to have some holiday time or have somebody cover, or even have an after hours clinic during those periods other than the actual statutory holidays.”

On Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day, your family doctor isn’t obligated to be open. Other than that, you shouldn’t see much of a disruption in medical services. Dr. Schacter encourages everyone with a family doctor to call first to see if the clinic is open before heading to emerge.

The St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is preparing for the holidays by letting the public know what is considered an emergency. Their Facebook post lists all of the appropriate uses of emerge:

• Pains or tightness in the chest
• Symptoms of stroke
• Fractured or broken bones
• Wounds that may need stitches
• Severe pain
• Shortness of breath
• Sudden severe headaches, problems with vision, weakness, numbness and/or tingling in the face, arm or leg, trouble speaking, or dizziness
• If your child is vomiting, has diarrhea and won’t eat or drink
• When a baby under six months has a fever over 37.9 degrees C or 100 degrees F 
• When a child over six months has a fever over 38.5 degrees C or 101 degrees F

If your condition isn’t listed, you should look somewhere other than emerge for medical attention.

stegh emergency department

For those without a family doctor, there are still alternatives to the emergency department. SouthWesthealthline.ca is a great online resource for finding help with non-emergency medical issues over the holidays. The site highlights resources that are open and available during statutory holidays including: crisis intervention assistance, Telehealth Ontario, medical walk-in clinics, community pharmacies with extended hours, or urgent care services.

Together, we can make sure that people with emergency medical issues are seen by a doctor in good time. It might be one of the best gifts you give this holiday season.