Rochester General Hospital to build ‘outside structure’ to expand emergency room care

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester General Hospital announced Thursday it will build an "outside structure" in an effort to expand its emergency department care.

Rochester Regional Health Chair of Emergency Medicine Keith Grams confirmed to Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke Thursday the move in response to mounting wait times for patients. He said RGH’s Emergency Departments are experiencing a "significant" overcapacity of patients, with some waiting on hospital beds.

Grams says it’s a challenge that is not unique to Rochester and is being experienced in other areas of western New York.

A News10NBC Investigation by Lewke exposed packed hospitals and a shortage of staff has backed up care. Her report found on a number of occasions, paramedics were forced to wait hours in emergency room hallways with patients on their stretchers.

He said intensive care patients are generally running on normal, pre-pandemic wait times, while a majority of the extended waits are for people receiving what Grams says are "standard medical admissions." He noted the structure is the latest way hospitals are getting "creative" in trying to avoid more build-up.

You may remember in 2020 when the University of Rochester Medical Center put up temporary treatment tents outside the entrances of both Highland and Strong Memorial Hospitals. Those tents were specifically made for patients dealing with respiratory problems.

Elsewhere, Monroe Community Hospital announced Wednesday it will begin accepting a limited number of new rehab patients from local hospitals to help alleviate major backups

As for RRH, Grams says the new structure will help the hospital support the needs of the community, and is a way to encourage more people to come to emergency rooms who may shy away from it due to wait times.

Lewke – What can people expect? I mean when you say these are longer wait times than normal, are we talking hours? Are we talking days?

Grams – It kind of all depends, in many ways. So high acuity patients — patients that need an intensive care unit or surgery, or those kind of immediate interventions, I think you can expect those to run fairly normal into what we saw even pre-pandemic essentially.

To be clear, this is not a move backed by New York State. Grams said he is "confident" RRH has spoken with the state before but has not heard of any state resources that have, or will be given to the system.

Two dozen nursing homes in the area stopped accepting new patients when the vaccine mandate went into effect for workers, so beds aren’t freeing up as quickly as normal.

"Those are the folks that are probably experiencing the majority of the extended waits so, you’ll see the staff running around doing everything they can do to try to make their stay comfortable but we are at the mercy… a bit over-capacity in the system at this time and we’re going to get them a bed as quickly as possible," Grams said.

The bottleneck is impacting the entire healthcare system.

Ambulance companies told Lewke in the last few weeks, they’ve experienced more than two-hour waits to unload patients at emergency rooms.

Lewke – They [EMTs] say that this is a crisis level. Do you believe that is true, or how bad is this in your experience?

Grams – Yeah, this is some of the most challenging I’ve seen in the last dozen years. […] To appreciate the staffing crunch, as well as the capacity crunch, as well as folks that weren’t seeking care and are coming in sicker than they were before, this is probably some of the most challenging I’ve seen in the Rochester region.