ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Rochester Regional Health is one of several medical organizations coping with overcrowded emergency departments.

What You Need To Know

  • The chair of emergency medicine at Rochester Regional Health is tackling complaints about long wait times at area emergency departments in his system
  • Dr. Keith Grams says EDs are seeing what he calls "significant" over-capacity compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been more noticeable in the last few weeks
  • He says those processed through an ED and then awaiting admittance to a hospital bed for medium to mild acute pain are seeing longer waits, but not when it comes to people with serious emergencies

Michele Gill of Greece was on her way to get her cancer treatments — just as she was last week — when her doctor decided to send her to the emergency department at Unity Hospital because of a complication of her condition.

“They literally wheeled me over there 2:30 in the afternoon, where I sat in the hallway, amongst 50 other people and I sat for 12 hours,” she said.

Michele says as the hours passed, she became more and more frustrated, sitting in a hallway.

“Nobody came out and asked if anybody wants water, you know?” she said. “Didn't address anybody in the hallway. So basically I was there for 12 hours without anything.

“In the emergency waiting room, in the hallway where I had wheeled in, I was in a wheelchair and I wheeled myself as far away from everybody as I could because being, you know, a cancer patient and going through treatments, I wanted to be far away from anybody that might have possible COVID.”

Unity Hospital is part of Rochester Regional Health. Its Chair of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Keith Grams, is addressing the problem.

“To appreciate the staffing crunch, as well as the capacity crunch, as well as folks that weren't seeking care and are coming in sicker than they were before,” said Dr. Grams. “This is probably some of the most challenging I've seen in the Rochester region.”

Dr. Grams confirms the severity of the capacity and staffing shortage.

“Definitely Rochester Regional emergency departments are experiencing significant more overcapacity than we have in the past,” he said. “We do have patients waiting on hospital beds at times, and unfortunately that weight can be extended. To our knowledge, this is not unique to Rochester Regional. This is a Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo phenomenon. This is definitely a challenge that is really felt, at least, in the upstate region, that we know of.”

But, he explains that those with the most acute medical issues are being treated in a timely manner.

“I think the folks that are waiting for a hospital bed for what we consider a little bit more kind of a standard medical admission, those are the folks that are probably experiencing the majority of the extended waits,” Dr. Grams said.

“There definitely has to be some kind of intervention, whether it's done at the hospital level or it's done with the governor, but something has to be addressed,” said Michele. “It cannot keep going on like this. Because the people in the hallway are not getting any kind of attention at all. I mean I saw people bleeding on the floor that weren't even addressed, as far as getting clean bandages or it just wasn't a sanitary situation, period. Me, being an immunocompromised, I shouldn't have been in a room with 50 people, waiting.”

Dr. Grams says reducing ED wait times is a top priority for RRH.

“We are erecting an external structure that support the needs of our community and extend the hospital footprint to really get creative and use non-traditional space to take care of patients,” he said.

RGH says a structure has been built there specifically for the needs of the emergency department, but a spokesperson says there’s no word yet on when it will open. It’s also unclear on how it will help solve the staffing shortage, and Dr. Grams awaits word about any potential communication between RRH and New York State.

“I am confident that that we are in communication with the state,” he said. “I have not heard of any resources that have been allocated or might be route allocated.”

Patients like Michele say it never should have come to this – and the problem needs to stop now.

“Something needs to be done at every level,” she said. “There has to be more sympathy for both sides, you know. Like I say I'm sympathetic to what's going on, but I also shouldn't have been sitting in a waiting room for 12 hours.”

Michele says she finally left the ED at 3 a.m. without receiving care.