WORCESTER, Mass. – UMass Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson said emergency departments in the UMass system are at unprecedented levels, which is also causing significant backups in their hospitals.

He said it's even bordering on unmanageable conditions.

"I've practiced emergency medicine in this city for just about 30 years, and I can say without a doubt, we've never seen the emergency departments in this city so crowded," Dickson said.

Long wait times and a lack of beds have made the last month a real challenge for UMass Memorial Health. Dickson said they noticed in early January crowds were becoming a major problem. He's now describing it as a "crisis situation."

"The state average daily census rising to about 860," Dickson said. "And we only have 750 beds."

Respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, RSV and the flu have also led to the current challenges. Dickson said the second or third week of January is typically when the hospital census peaks.

But this year, they're having issues with getting people out of the hospital, citing workforce shortage issues.

"Many of the skilled nursing facilities we talked to are staffed at about 70% of their normal capacity," Dickson said. "That means 30% of their beds are sitting there empty, while we have patients in the hospital."

Temporary workers are also a challenge for UMass. Dickson described them as expensive. Still, nearly four years since it started, the COVID-19 pandemic is having its way on the workforce.

"We had a wave of early retirements of physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, people we thought were going to stay another five years or so, that just said that COVID taught the a lesson that they need to find a way to enjoy their life a bit and how precious it is," Dickson said.

Dickson said he wants to apologize to local patients who might have had a negative experience. He said there is hope on the horizon, with respiratory illness figures declining, and asks the public for patience as they work through it.

"Please, the people in the emergency department, they're working so hard," Dickson said "Don't take it out on them."

Dickson said there is expansion taking place in the near future, with 16 beds coming on line in March, and another 72 come January 2025. Should the current situation worsen, he said the plan is to use beds in skilled nursing facilities until the numbers die down.