‘It’s very difficult’: Staffing, high COVID cases lead to diversions at local hospitals


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As emergency rooms get flooded with patients, local hospitals are left having to divert non-urgent patients elsewhere.

Rochester General Hospital has had two diversions happen in the past week because of limited beds and staffing shortages. One happened on Sunday and one on Thursday.

Diversions are a last resort for hospitals and Dr. Robert Mayo, the Rochester Regional Health Chief Medical Officer, says it’s been close to 15 years since the hospital system has had to do this.

“These are short, four hour periods of time. They are designed to give the ED just a little bit of space to catch up with patient care and so they are not meant to curtail access to the ED because someone can still drive up or walk into our ED and if an ambulance arrives, we are not going to turn them away,” Mayo said. 

Mayo said part of the reason hospitals are overwhelmed is because of the high number of people being hospitalized with COVID. Over the past few days, they have seen hospitalizations go up.

“We were running around 195-200 patients in the hospitals in aggregate for the last week or so, and now we are up to 245,” Dr. Mayo said. 

The good news is, Omicron is showing to be less severe than the Delta variant, and hospitals are seeing this impact the number of people on ventilators. 

“We’ve been running at our worst 50+ on ventilators, but over the last month, our highest was in the 30s, now we are down to 13 patients on ventilators from COVID, so that number has come down steadily over the past several days,” Mayo said. 

Another reason hospitals are stressed is because staff are getting sick from Omicron and are calling out. At Thompson Health, 70 staff are currently out with COVID, 26 are awaiting test results and 9 are quarantining. 

“This particular variant of COVID is very, very contagious, and it’s just running through people. Fortunately, it’s not having the same proportion of hospitalizations as other variants did. So, we still seeing COVID admissions, but the areas that are really, really busy with COVID right now, in particular, the urgent cares, the urgent cares are just continuing to get crushed, and setting records every week based on volume,” said Michael Stapleton, the President and CEO of Thompson Health. 

Mayo said having so many staff members out is a big difference from the beginning of the pandemic, or even when the vaccines worked more effectively against other variants. At RRH, hundreds of staff are out each day. 

“We are noticing that the severity of illness is definitely dampened in a vaccinated person. So that’s still a good reason, a very strong reason, to get the vaccine, But we are having more employees that are out on convalescence for that,” Mayo said. “I can’t say that this is absolutely the worst time, but it is certainly a very challenging time. It is a very difficult time for employees and leaders. So we appreciate all the support and ingenuity we can receive.”

With staff out, it can mean long wait times for people needing care. 

“Patients do sit in chairs in hallways, they are on stretches in hallways. No one likes that. It’s uncomfortable for the patients, they don’t feel well, you know?,” Mayo said, adding that they are doing everything they can to make sure people are comfortable. 

Despite longer wait times and less staff, hospital leaders remind patients that if they need emergency care, they will get it. Diversions do not mean emergency departments are closed. 

“When people come to the emergency room so many of the times it’s an emergency to them. And the last thing we want to happen is somebody who should come to the emergency room doesn’t, right?” Stapleton said. “Work with your primary care physician, call your primary care, doc, work with family members and everything else, but it needs to be a true emergency.”

Experts say you should go to the emergency room if you have any of the following: 

  • Chest pain or left arm pain
  • Serious burns or cuts
  • Seizures 
  • Severe allergic reactions 
  • Stoke symptoms — like slurred speech, sudden numbness or facial droop
  • Or Multiple injuries or a possible broken bone. 

They ask that you do not go to an emergency room for a COVID test.

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