News10NBC Investigates how healthcare staffing shortages are impacting patients

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — While 99% of hospital workers locally met the New York State vaccine mandate and remain on the job, the percentages aren’t as strong at many local nursing homes.

As News10NBC reported Thursday, at least 24 local nursing homes have stopped accepting new residents due to staffing shortages which means those folks continue to take up hospital beds they truly don’t need while awaiting discharge. Local hospitals tell News10NBC they have upwards of 50 patients on any given day that should be moved freeing up at least 10% of their capacity if they could find placement quicker. The bottleneck is now having major trickle-down effects.

Back in June when Donna Stefano was having bad migraines, her doctor suggested she go to the Strong Emergency Room. She remembers her day starting in the triage tent outside.

“I actually had to get up and ask, ‘Is someone going to take care of me?’” she said.

After several hours she got her blood taken and a CT scan and then all of the sudden she got a lot of attention.

“You have a 3 cm brain tumor,” she was told, “and my world just as you can imagine, shifted.”

The only good news over the next 24 hours was that the tumor wasn’t cancerous. Her team of doctors determined there wasn’t an immediate need for surgery but since the tumor was already big and growing, it should be removed. They set a surgery date for Oct. 14. Stefano had her pre-op appointment last week.

“The nurse practitioners says to me, ‘So, you’ve heard about the pause?’, and I’m like ‘No, not really, what are you talking about?’” Stefano said.

The nurse practitioner was talking about the two-week pause on elective surgeries UR Medicine announced last week in anticipation of New York State’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers going into effect. Technically, Stefano’s surgery is outside that window but if staffing or space continues to be an issue.

“They keep telling me it’s a complex surgery that will take 10 to 12 hours and a lot of resources so, I expect that’s a pretty major booking on their system,” she told News10NBC.

Normally, a few-week wait wouldn’t be of major concern but, “I woke up the other morning and basically couldn’t move the left side of my body so the brain is starting to swell which we knew was not out of the realm of possibility,” Stefano said.

She called her doctor’s office right away,

“If you come here, we’ll assess you because you don’t want to be at the ER right now, the ER is a four-hour wait, 200 people… exposure to all kinds of things that we don’t want to expose you to prior to your surgery so please come here to us to be assessed,” she recalled them saying.

Thankfully, they were able to do a fresh CT scan and MRI on Thursday evening and while the situation is not ideal, Stefano has regained function on the left side of her body so they didn’t need to do emergency surgery.

A spokesman for UR Medicine tells News10NBC that Stefano’s surgery is not one that will be paused or rescheduled, either way, come Oct. 14 but emphasized these kinds of situations are the exact reason why the hospital does have to pause some elective surgeries, particularly ones that require an overnight stay. At the moment, with bed shortages, URMC says it has to ensure it has the space and staff to care for patients like Stefano who run the risk of rapid deterioration.

Neither URMC nor Rochester Regional provide emergency room wait times to the general public. In Stefano’s case, her doctor is part of the UR Medicine System so the office was able to call over to the ER to check-in.

Both health systems encourage patients to start with a call to their provider first. If it’s off-hours or you can’t get through or in to see your doctor, consider an Urgent Care setting if at all possible.