Postl’s list: Don’t Count on Accuracy

Worth A Look, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority CEO Dr. Brian Postl has been named head of some federal health-care wait list commission by Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Notwithstanding how bogus it is for the feds to even pretend they can have any control or influence over wait lists for procedures like knee surgery, cancer treatment or diagnostic testing.

It’s pretty funny they hired a guy who heads a health authority whose policy it is to lie to people about at least one waiting list.

That waiting list is the number of people forced to wait in emergency room hallways to get a hospital bed.

Maybe Canadians would like to know the WRHA’s dirty little secret on how it forces Winnipeg hospitals to fudge their numbers when counting how many patients are waiting in gurneys in drafty hallways.

If they knew this, they may not be so happy with Martin’s choice.

The Winnipeg Sun exposed a few years ago how the WRHA forces hospitals to file bogus numbers with the health authority when doing daily counts of patients in hallways.

It was brought to our attention by nurses who do the counts and who weren’t too happy with bureaucrats telling them to lie about how many people were languishing in ER hallways.

What the hospitals are forced to do is count, every day at 8 a.m., how many patients are admitted to hospital who are in the ER hallway.

Then staff are told to count the number of empty spots elsewhere in the ER, including space in the observation unit or examination rooms, and subtract that number from the total number of patients warehoused in the hallway.

That’s the number the hospital is told to file with the WRHA, which is eventually posted on a government website.

So if there are 10 patients in the hallway but five empty spots elsewhere in the ER — spots that may be left open for good medical reasons — the hospital reports that there were only five patients in the hallway that day.

The WRHA has been doing this in Winnipeg for the past five to six years.

They have been claiming that “hallway medicine” is on the decline.

Well, that’s in part because they started forcing hospitals to fudge their numbers.

But they also made other changes to their methodology that artificially brought the numbers down.

They stopped counting psychiatric patients waiting in the hallways, for example.

And they stopped counting patients awaiting surgery. Naturally, the reported numbers drop.

In 2003, the Winnipeg Sun, through a freedom of information request, obtained the real hallway patient numbers for the month of February at one of the city’s community hospitals — Victoria General Hospital.

We compared them with the fraudulent numbers reported by the WRHA and found the real patient counts in hallway were as much as nine times higher than what was reported.

So if Paul Martin is looking for someone who knows how to manipulate waiting list data, he’s found the right guy in Brian Postl, who rakes in a salary of $352,344 by the way.

Maybe Brian Postl should figure out how to reduce soaring waiting lists in Winnipeg for knee and hip replacement surgery and for diagnostic testing like MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds before he hits the national circuit.

People in Winnipeg routinely wait a year or two — sometimes longer — for knee and hip surgery.
And Postl’s going to be the national expert on waiting lists?


And where is Dr. Postl going to find the time to perform his new federal task?

Shouldn’t he be busy running the WRHA’s massive bureaucracy — which has tripled in cost over the past few years and now occupies six floors of plush office space in downtown Winnipeg?

Canadians may be getting a new commission on how to reduce hospital waiting lists.
But they should take it with a grain of salt.

Tom Brodbeck is the Sun’s city columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at:

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