News10NBC Investigates: Inside crowded emergency rooms

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Local emergency rooms are overwhelmed. Ambulance crews are being forced to wait in long lines to unload patients, rooms are doubled-up, there are beds in every hallway and every chair in the waiting room is full. News10NBC has been investigating the health care crisis in our community for months and now, we go inside for a first-hand look.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke rode along with a paramedic and EMT from CHS Ambulance on a 6-hour shift. CHS covers most of the west side of Monroe County. In that time, the crew responded to three calls. There were others but because of how backed up the emergency rooms are right now, that’s all they could get to.

Call #1 – A 50-year-old woman having a seizure in the dairy department of a Wegmans. She fell to the ground. The team renders care on-scene but the patient requests a transport to Strong Hospital. The crew arrives at the hospital and waits about 15 minutes in line behind other EMS agencies at the door with the patient on the stretcher before getting to the triage nurse. It takes another 15 minutes before the patient is transferred to a bed in the hallway.

“It’s early so, this is actually not all that uncommon for before noon,” explained Reg Allen, the Chief of CHS.

But a slow morning isn’t really slow. Space inside is a major issue.

“As you saw our patient is in a hallway bed,” Allen said.

Call #2 – A call from a local Urgent Care. A female in her 50’s with a terminal illness, COVID symptoms and low blood oxygen levels. She is transported to Strong Hospital. It’s a much different scene when the crew arrives. There are nine ambulances in the parking area. The crew waits for about 20 minutes in the triage line before being directed to drop off the patient, who is on oxygen, in the waiting room upfront.

“I feel bad when I walk out there and it’s jam-packed to the gills and I know somebody is likely going to be waiting 8 or 10 hours,” said EMT Deb Curran.

Call #3 – A 90-year-old woman has fallen down the garage stairs. Henrietta firefighters are already there when the CHS crew arrives. With their help, the patient is transferred to the stretcher and into the ambulance. She requested a transport to Unity Hospital. The Ambulance parking area doesn’t seem too busy but space inside is a major issue. Ambulance crew stands in the emergency room among at least two dozen patients on beds up against the walls, waiting. The crew waits for about 30 minutes before making up a bed in the hallway to put the patient on.

Both Allen and Curran have been in EMS for more than 20 years and the situation at all of our local emergency rooms.

“This is the worst we’ve seen, absolutely… when they’re stacked up in triage five-six deep and now with the weather starting to turn colder it’s even more concerning,” Curran said.

The reasons for ER overcrowding are vast. There is an increase in demand for emergency care coupled with a staffing shortage. Then, the NYS vaccine mandate crippled nursing home staffing levels, forcing many of them to close to new admissions; meaning patients who need long-term care or rehabilitation are backing up in hospitals and taking up much-needed beds.

For more on what News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke saw inside our local emergency rooms, click the video above.

Previous News10NBC Coverage of the Current Healthcare Crisis: