Emergency rooms starting to see more patients as COVID-19 cases rise

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 5:01 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Doctors say emergency rooms are starting to see more patients.

While the ER will see all the patients who come to the hospital, a nationwide staffing shortage in hospitals is creating long wait times.

As the Mid-South continues to report tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases a day, emergency rooms are starting to see the effect of that. Doctors at the ER at Regional One saw four of its busiest days of 2021 over the last week.

A spokesperson for the hospital said “the increase in COVID cases is definitely a contributing factor in our patient volume increase,” via email.

The Regional One Health Emergency Department reports on average they see about 130 patients a day. Over the past week, Regional One emergency room doctors report seeing an extra 30 to 40 patients a day, with the peak of 201 patients on December 28.

Doctors at emergency rooms across the Mid-South want patients to ask themselves a couple of questions.

“Is this truly a life-threatening emergency? Or do I have a cold? Is this a mild flu,” said Dr. Dale Criner, Methodist North’s emergency department’s medical director.

Criner says hospitals have the room for patients, but not enough staff. However, staff will see everyone who comes to the ER, but depending on the severity of your symptoms you may first be sent to the waiting room.

Patient loads are getting larger due, in part, to the increase in COVID-19 cases. In Shelby County, the latest report had more than 300 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Tuesday, the county reported another 2,613 cases.

“We have seen a dramatic increase [in ER visits],” Criner said. “We expected it a little bit after the holidays and everybody got together. But in the last week and a half, two weeks it’s been a dramatic increase.”

Doctors say some emergency symptoms include chest pain, severe nausea and diarrhea, respiratory distress, an altered mental state, dehydration, and severe headache.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare released the following statement regarding emergency departments:

“In December of 2021, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare averaged 885 patients a day in our emergency rooms. As anticipated due to the surge in COVID cases, that is a higher volume than in November 2021 when we averaged 796 patients a day. November’s volume was comparable to the number of patients we averaged in December 2020 at 747 patients a day.

MLH emergency departments have processes in place to ensure patients are prioritized based on the severity of their illness. Patients who don’t have an emergent need may wait longer. Our emergency rooms are built to serve our community members in times of their emergent needs. If anyone is experiencing an emergency, they need to seek care immediately.”

The Memphis Fire Department is also reminding citizens some symptoms can be treated at primary care doctors or urgent care offices.

Memphis EMS saw more calls in December 2021 compared to one year earlier. Numbers provided to Action News 5 from the Memphis Fire Department say crews went to 11,485 calls in December 2021, up by about 400 calls compared to the year earlier.

Memphis Fire Department says it can’t definitively say the increase is due to COVID-19.

“We see a three to six percent increase in run volume yearly, which puts our current run volume inline as expected,” Memphis Fire Department Lt. Hunter Smith told Action News 5 via email.

In August, Memphis Fire Chief Gina Sweat reported a record-breaking month, at the time in part due to rising COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant. In August 2021, Memphis EMS went on 12,816 runs.

“We don’t want to talk anyone into not coming to the emergency department if they feel like they need to be here,” Criner said. “We certainly want those who feel like they have an emergency to be here. We just want those who have very mild symptoms to perhaps consider other options.”

Doctors are still seeing people seeking COVID-19 tests at emergency rooms. You are urged not to seek a test at an ER.

There are several community testing sites open daily with no appointments necessary. The newest one will open Wednesday at the UTHSC campus. Find a list of testing locations here.

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