Rochester-area ambulances forced to wait hours to unload patients at local hospitals

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Most hospitals across our region are well over capacity. 

News10NBC has learned that on Wednesday evening, Rochester General and Unity Hospitals both went on diversion for several hours, meaning they suggested ambulances bring patients elsewhere because they were so backed up.   

The diversion, of course, then made things even more backed up for the hospitals that remained open. 

“We had a dozen or so calls where we had three-hour, four-hour drop times at the hospitals, five hours in one case,” explains John Caufield, the COO of Monroe Ambulance. 

During those hours, “our crews are still taking care of the patients on the gurney, but those patients are not getting that next level of care, the diagnostics– getting to the root cause of what caused the emergency in the first place,” Caufield adds.

The back-ups prevent paramedics and EMTs, who are already in short supply, from getting to the next call and the next patient.  

The situation was so severe on Wednesday night, a state representative responded, “last night at Rochester General we had a representative from state EMS there trying to help the crews,” Caufield says. “It wasn’t just Monroe crews that were affected and it wasn’t just Rochester General but there’s really no solution, and my biggest concern is nobody seems to be taking ownership of the system problem and that is the part that still not being fixed.”

As News10NBC has reported, staffing shortages at nursing homes are preventing hospitals from discharging patients that are ready for stepped-down care, those patients are taking up rooms and staff that are desperatly needed for those coming through the emergency department.   

“The system is collapsing and nobody is doing anything wrong. Everyone’s doing the best they can but we need to put heads together and make a decision that’s best for the people in Monroe County, and in the area,” Caufield says. 

There is no easy fix but leaving paramedics in the hallways for emergency departments with patients on the stretcher for hours on end, isn’t a solution.

“These are big questions, tough questions, that require some serious dialogue and some decision making and some… I’ll call it public responsibility. This is a healthcare system. Citizens in Monroe County rely on this. It’s life and death. It truly is life and death,” Caufield says.

In a statement to News10NBC, a spokeswoman for UR Medicine says: “Strong Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department remains extremely busy, like EDs across the country. We continue to experience high volumes and are challenged by hospital bed capacity. Despite this, with coordination among the six EDs within the UR Medicine system, Strong Memorial’s ED has been able to remain open for patients requiring emergency care. Wait times for patients not needing immediate care are longer than we would like.”

A spokeswoman for Rochester Regional Health tells News10NBC: “The total number of patients within the Rochester General Hospital Emergency Department (ED), Unity Hospital Emergency Department, even our Eastern Region hospitals has climbed significantly over the past two years. The RGH ED is the fourth busiest in all of New York State. Our EDs are open 24/7 for all patients.  We never turn any patient away, even during a diversion. Patients are triaged as they arrive. In the last 24 months, we have requested diversion a total of 64 hours – with MOST of the requests being limited to 4 hours within any 24 hour period.  As we’ve shared before, among our biggest challenges is moving patients who are medically ready to leave the ED or the hospital to post-acute facilities. We call these patients boarders.  These challenges are not unique to the Rochester area.  Recently the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) sent a letter to the President of the United States saying, ‘Hospital emergency departments (EDs) have been brought to a breaking point.‘”

The spokeswoman went on to say: “We are engaging our county, state and federal partners on immediate and future workforce needs in hospitals and nursing homes. That includes securing funds to open more beds in all facilities, and training, recruiting and retaining incredibly hardworking nurses, providers, techs and caretakers. Our EMS providers are critical partners. We meet every month as a large group, and in small ways everyday within our EDs to work on solutions. It will take a lot of work beyond the walls of our hospitals, but we know together we will be able to continue to provide the high quality care this community needs and deserves.”