‘It was hard for me to believe I was in a hospital in the United States’: Patient recalls weekend in RGH emergency room

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Our local hospitals are at or over capacity and if you need care, you may be shocked at what you see inside.

Strong Memorial, Rochester General, Unity and Highland Hospitals have all reached full ICU capacity. Overall, they’re running between 90-95% acute care capacity and a major contributing factor is that they can’t discharge patients who need long-term care because nursing homes aren’t accepting them due to their own staffing shortages.

Those long-term care patients are backing up and taking up much-needed space — leaving patients who need acute care stuck in the emergency rooms for days on end.

A week ago, Brian Elniski of Webster had a heart ablation. The surgery went well and he was able to go home the same day but by the next night, he was in rough shape.

“By 11 p.m., I knew I needed to get myself over to the hospital because I was having chest pain and having a real hard time breathing and I had a really bad headache,” he told News10NBC.

Elniski drove himself to Strong Memorial Hospital.

“I sat there for three hours and at 2:30 a.m., two different guys walked in who had just got shot… at that point, I figured I wasn’t getting into the emergency room so I headed over to [Rochester] General,” he said.

When he got to Rochester General, he was triaged in the waiting room, an EKG was done along with blood work and pain medications were administered.

“They came out I don’t know how long it was later and said we’re going to admit you,” Elniski says, “They put me on a bed and they wheeled me into a hallway and hooked me up to everything in the hallway.”

And that is where he stayed for the next two days as doctors treated him for complications from his surgery that resulted in a partially collapsed lung.

“There was a guy in a bed at my feet, a guy behind me and there were two people on each side of me,” he recalled.

Elniski said there was no patient privacy and no separate areas for COVID patients and non-COVID patients.

“I was sleeping in a fully-lit hallway with COVID people, I knew the guy behind me had COVID because I could hear them talking to him on Saturday,” he said.

A bed upstairs or in a room was never available so, Elniski remained in the emergency room hallway until Monday.

“It was hard for me to believe that I was in a hospital in the United States but I feel terrible for the people who work there,” he said, “I was really frustrated with the people at Strong but by the time I got to General I knew exactly why I was getting talked to that way. Those people look — like those people look burnt out.”

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke took Elniski’s comments to Dr. Keith Grams, the Chair of Emergency Medicine at Rochester Regional Health.

Dr. Grams – I think that he’s highlighted some of the different things that we’re all experiencing throughout pretty much all hospitals. We are at capacity or well over capacity… we get incredibly creative, to use every nook and cranny to be able to take care of patients with — in the best manner possible — with the resources that we have available to us.

Jennifer Lewke – Has the state essentially said do what you have to do to keep going? Are there still specific ratios or room sizes or privacy protections that you still have to meet in a crisis like this?

Dr. Grams – We still need to meet kind of the basic levels of ensuring we’re taking care of our emergency department patients.

So, are patients still getting quality care?

“Patients will definitely perceive a difference in the way that care is given,” Dr. Grams said, “the good news is we aren’t necessarily seeing an increase in negative outcomes so what we’re doing is ensuring that we don’t see that along the way. We are seeing sicker patients being cared for in different environments that we hadn’t done before but we’re working with the team to ensure that, that doesn’t directly affect the end-care for the patient.”