ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Regional Health will erect a structure outside the emergency department at Rochester General Hospital in an effort to expand emergency room care, hospital officials announced Thursday.

According to Dr. Keith Grams, Rochester Regional Health Chair of Emergency Medicine, emergency department wait times will be determined by priority, with high acuity patients and those in need of surgery, to expect standard wait times with some delays, at times, minimal.

Dr. Grams says other standard medical admissions will experience the bulk of the waiting, but he added that staff will be working to ensure patients are comfortable as the hospital works to get them beds as “quickly as possible.”

“Our team gets very creative to ensure we can get to patients as soon as possible,” Dr. Grams said. “Prior to the pandemic, we had about a 30 minute average wait time, and that has since climbed to about 40 minutes. We’re working to see what we can do to minimize that as much as possible.”

He says there’s 78 beds between adult and pediatric ED’s, but demand calls for around 150 beds.

Grams says staffing shortages are one of the major contributing factors of this. They’ve been building up for months, made worse the past few weeks with the recent vaccine mandate, “direct and indirect effects from the pandemic, as far as staffing and some of the vaccine mandates, that’s kind of what we’re seeing as far as our staffing challenges,” he said.

News 8 has been covering shortages for months. Shortages across the health system have been trickling down to the emergency department. “Probably some of the most difficult I’ve seen in Rochester,” he said.

Another cause for the crowded conditions? Nursing homes. County Executive Adam Bello says nursing homes are closing their doors due to not enough staff – in turn affecting local hospitals.

“When they stabilize, hopefully the spigot turns back on, beds become available, patients can move out of hospitals, Monroe Community Hospital we just announced yesterday starting to take additional residents,” he said.

In the meantime, the backup is affecting how outside parties transfer care when dropping of patients.

Syed Ahmed Mustafa, president for North East Quadrant Advanced Life Support and Webster EMS says it can be up to a 3 hour wait. “You come from the ambulance parking lot into a hallway, you’re literally waiting in line to have a nurse evaluate the patient sometimes do an EKG,” he said.

But even with these conditions, Mustafa says it’s important the public knows to call for help if they need it, they always find a way. 

“If you’ve got chest pain, shortness of breath, or something just doesn’t feel right, call the ambulance, while you’re in the care of the ambulance you are in very capable hands,” he said.

As of Wednesday in the Finger Lakes region, there were 232 reported COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 54 patients in an ICU, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Last week’s 239 regional hospitalizations was the highest in the Finger Lakes since February 17 (265).

“As far as COVID the disease, this is a small factor, but we are still seeing patients come in with COVID who require admission to the hospital,” said Grams. “Please, if you are on the fence, get vaccinated.”

Dr. Grams reiterated that those with urgent, life-threatening conditions, will not be the patients experiencing delays in care.

‘It’s not predictable’

One nurse, Johntay McCaullah, works at a local hospital called the situation ‘concerning’ and says the high numbers— very real. She says the vaccine mandates behind much of it. 

“Mostly, yeah. We’re understaffed…” she says.

A solution for the public she says, might be urgent care. “If it’s not major, you’re not bleeding, you don’t have a hole in your head, go to urgent care. You’ll get out quicker,” says McCaullah.

Sean Callahan and other folks say at any time, one of the patients waiting— could be any one of us. 
“We could be in that emergency room and need services right away…and it’s not predictable, it’s not something that you schedule…” says Callahan.

“Absolutely, just not acceptable,” says Ashely Livingston.

“I don’t know what other options I would have but, I’d be concerned,” says Olphia Barnes.

“With everything going on with COVID and the vaccines, it’s definitely slowing the process down,” says Kimberly Brown.

If the vaccine mandate is the problem, Sandy Toole wants to know why some staff are opting out. “I don’t know why staff walks out, and I can’t understand why staff doesn’t get the shot,” says Toole.

The doctor added that Rochester Regional Health has been in contact with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office in an effort to help mitigate the issue.

News 8 reached out to the state for more information on what help is on the way, and received this response from a spokesperson:

“The DOH Operations Center is advising facilities on ways to take advantage of the Executive Order, as well as internal steps they can take to address staff shortages.  On Sept. 27 Governor Hochul signed an Executive Order that took several specific steps to expand the eligible workforce and to ease certain burdens on health care providers so that more staff can focus on patient care. These provisions make it easier for hospitals and nursing homes to bring in temporary employees, including retirees and travel nurses, and it expanded roles for EMTs in certain settings.”

Additional Information: 

Facilities currently all have emergency staffing plans, which existed before the pandemic.  

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.