WINK News Investigates: Swamped emergency rooms

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Dozens of complaints from viewers over agonizing waits at Lee County emergency rooms sparks a WINK News Investigation. Natasha Sherod’s family rushed her to Lee Memorial’s ER in January for gallstones.

Sherod told WINK News she spent eight hours in the waiting room and 24 hours on a gurney in the hallway she described as ‘chaos’ before she was transferred to a room and eventually underwent surgery.

“I heard everything going on around me and what other patients were there for, so I don’t really understand how HIPPA can go into effect in Florida if the hospitals are that full that there’s no privacy,” said Sherod.

Population spike, flu swamps ER’s

Executives with Lee Memorial Health System admit they were blind-sided by a spike in population and this year’s flu.

“When a vaccine is only working 23 percent of the time, it really puts a strain on all the facilities,” Chief Operating Officer Dr. Lawrence Antonucci said.

Antonucci emphasized while conditions may not be idea, treatment at Lee Memorial’s facilities is not delayed.

“We just have no choice to do that because we want to take care of them in the best setting that we can, and sometimes that’s in the emergency room for a number of hours before they go upstairs.”

Dr. Antonucci says he plans on a 1-2 percent increase in patient population every year, but “this year they’re seeing a 7% growth in our patients which is really unprecedented and unplanned for.”

Plans for expansion

Lee Memorial has plans to add more beds in the future, with an announcement anticipated sometime in the next year.

“From a physical perspective, the place where we can add beds is Gulf Coast Medical Center,” he said.

The hospital recently added 40 beds to Cape Coral Hospital and 15 at Lee Memorial.

You may remember, administrators had hoped to build a new hospital in South Lee County near Coconut Point, but those plans were rejected by the state.

Instead, an outpatient facility with and ER and 12 beds for stays that are less than 24 hours will be built. That facility does not require a certificate of need to build. Completion is anticipated for 2017.

Health Park also stands to gain 45 beds when the Golisano Children’s Hospital opens in 2017.

Avoid the ER for non-emergencies

Hospital Executives say if you don’t have a true emergency, you should avoid the ER. Instead, contact your doctor or visit one of Lee Memorial’s urgent care facilities.

The hospital has also sent letters to primary care physicians to help manage resources by making themselves available and telling them about outpatient services such as Urgent Care.

The letter also asks doctors to provide patients with ‘realistic expectations’ of the Emergency Department and triage process.