News10NBC Investigates: Ambulance crews waiting 2+ hours to unload ER patients

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The hospitals in our region are packed and staffing is tight. The problem is nearing a crisis level. In fact, on a number of occasions this week, paramedics have been forced to wait hours in emergency room hallways with patients on their stretchers; those ambulance companies tell News10NBC, the healthcare system is close to a breaking point.

As News10NBC has been reporting, more than 20 local nursing homes have stopped accepting any new patients while they assess their staffing situations following the implementation of New York State’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. That has caused patients, who need nursing or rehabilitation care, to start backing up in local hospitals that can’t find placements to discharge them.

“There is nowhere to put people…because you can’t get them out which means you can’t get them in,” said Reg Allen, the CEO of CHS Ambulance, “it is a nightmare and I am very concerned that we are one medical disaster away from collapse.”

On a few occasions this week, paramedics have stayed 2 ½ hours with patients in the hallway of Rochester General Hospital waiting for the hospital to take over care. At other area hospitals, the situation isn’t much better. What used to be a 10-20 minute hand-off on average is now up to 45 minutes to an hour on a good day.

“You look at the paramedics and they’re frustrated and they get frustrated at the hospital because that’s where the bottleneck is," Allen said, “(but) It’s not their fault when you walk in and you see the nurses and doctors and they’re just, their faces show that they want to do more, they want to be able to help these people, they just don’t have anybody, they don’t have the resources.”

It’s becoming such an issue, ambulance companies are sending supervisors to the hospitals to relieve crews.

“One of our paramedic supervisors will go to the hospital and they’ll help get our crews back on the road to do additional emergency calls while also maintaining that continuity of care for the patient,” explained John Caufield, the Chief Operating Officer of Monroe Ambulance.

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Michael Apostolakos, the Chief Medical Officer at URMC sent an internal email his staff saying the Emergency Department and hospital are seeing.

“Unprecedented patient volumes leading to 94 admitted boarded patients in the ED awaiting an inpatient bed.” Dr. Apostolakos urged staff to expedite the discharge process for patients who were set to be released.

On Thursday, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke one-on-one with the Chair of Emergency Medicine at Strong Hospital.

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Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – A source forwarded me an internal document yesterday from Dr. Apostolokas saying, “hey if you’ve got discharges please do that we have 90+ patients waiting for beds in this hospital” — what are you doing with those patients while they’re waiting for a bed, where do they go?

Dr. Michael Kamali – Oftentimes, they are in the emergency department…where else can they go until a bed is available?

Jennifer Lewke – Realistically, if I’m not in a life or death situation how long am I going to spend it in your ED?

Dr. Kamali – Well, people ask that question and the wait time it really depends upon the condition…we don’t want anybody waiting but we recognize that at times we just don’t have all the resources we might need to take care of every patient at that second. So, what we’ve tried to do is put additional resources into our waiting areas so that we can get some labs, imaging and other things started for patients so at least while they’re waiting some things are potentially happening.

Jennifer Lewke – Is this the worst you’ve seen staffing-wise?

Dr. Kamali – From a staffing standpoint, yeah it seems like we have lost a fair number of nurses and again the reasons for that are very complex and very mixed.

Jennifer Lewke – The Governor has offered to help where there are staffing shortages, do you feel like we’re at a point where we need to ask the Governor for that help?

Dr. Kamali – I think at this point we are having some difficulty with staffing, across the nation, across all areas. To be able to help some of our nursing homes with their staffing so that we can get some patients who are fine and ready for discharge back to the nursing home, that would be one piece.

News10NBC reached out to Monroe County Executive Adam Bello’s office to see if he is working with the healthcare systems and nursing homes to request help from the Governor’s office, in a statement he says, “Monroe County does not operate any emergency care and only operates one nursing home, Monroe Community Hospital. The question may be better placed with the hospitals and healthcare systems that operate almost all the long-term care facilities in the region. Since early in 2021, the County Executive has convened meetings with local healthcare leaders to try and address the chronic healthcare worker shortage in long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Those discussions are ongoing. Earlier this week, the County Executive met in Albany with Governor Hochul on this topic and advocated for incentives to help boost nursing home employment.”

News10NBC also reached out to the Governor’s office. We’re awaiting a response.