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'The patients could hear him screaming': Winnipeg man in pain left waiting one hour for ER doctor

A Manitoba couple claims they experienced how broken the hospital system is after their recent visit to a Winnipeg emergency department.

Rob and Sandy Cohen told CTV News they went to the Grace Hospital emergency department on July 14. Rob had surgery, which was postponed two weeks, to remove cancerous spots from his bladder a day earlier. Sandy said he had not been able to empty his bladder since he was sent home post-surgery.

A 42-second video provided by the couple shows Rob was in intense pain inside the emergency room.

“For over an hour we listened to him scream in pain; the patients could hear him screaming,” said Sandy. “The nurses couldn't do anything because they can't give pain meds without a doctor’s authorization.”

“I didn't feel very important that’s for sure. I didn’t know what to do and I was really in no condition to really do anything,” said Rob. “It was a long hour and I was in a lot of pain. The bed was useless I couldn’t lie down anyways, I was really on the floor for the most part.”

The Cohen’s said nurses were apologizing profusely to them and after that hour passed by, a nurse went to go see if they could get a doctor to come and look at Rob.

Shortly after that, Sandy said a doctor was able to see her husband. She said he was given a bladder ultrasound and pain medication. She said her husband was also catheterized because his bladder was full and it was spasming. Sandy said by 7:30 p.m., Rob’s condition had improved enough they could go home.

Sandy believes her husband should be able to go to an emergency department and be looked at in priority order.

“I totally get if a doctor is tied up with a critical situation but there needs to be someone else to spell off so at least if somebody comes in and they’re in pain, at least be able to do something to mitigate that pain to a point where he’s not screaming,” she said.

“Part of that issue is you have a department that’s running on very thin margins in terms of staff. So people are waiting and that’s the reality.”

According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, there were three doctors on shift the same afternoon Rob came to the hospital for care.

“While we cannot comment on individual cases, our physicians are experienced, dedicated, hard-working professionals who, despite ongoing challenges in our EDs, are committed to providing compassionate, high-quality care to all our patients,” reads a statement from the WRHA.

At 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19,  the wait time to see a physician at the Grace Emergency Department was 6.5, hours according to the WRHA website.

“Doctors are very concerned about increasing ER wait times in Winnipeg and ER closures in rural and Northern Manitoba, and the impact this is having on patients and their families,” reads a statement from Doctors Manitoba. “There is no question that more physician and nursing coverage in the ER, along with addressing the shortage of inpatient hospital beds, are important parts of addressing this critical issue.”

Sandy said their issue is with the health-care system, not with the staff working within it.

“We don’t have a single bad thing to say about the care that we got once the care was being administered,” she said.

“This is not a complaint about the health-care professionals, this is a complaint and a big issue about the health-care system that’s broken.”

CTV News reached out to the Minister of Health Audrey Gordon for comment and were told it would be inappropriate for Minister Gordon to comment on a specific case. 

In a statement, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) said there are always physicians on shift in their emergency departments at any given time.

“Since 2019, there have been no reductions in physician staffing in our urgent care or emergency departments, and in some cases there has been an increase in the number of funded physician hours on a temporary basis,” the spokesperson said.

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