People waiting outside Lee County’s overcrowded ERs for hours

Published: August 12, 2021 5:17 PM EDT
Updated: August 13, 2021 3:45 PM EDT

People are spending hours in Lee County’s emergency rooms while hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. People are being told not to come unless they have a true emergency.

One woman told WINK News she waited seven hours outside of a crowded ER before she could get to a hospital bed. Her doctor told her she needed to go to the ER and even had an ambulance take her, but when she got to the hospital, she had to wait just like everyone else.

Susan Rosenberg of Sanibel expected speedy care when she arrived at HealthPark Medical Center Wednesday afternoon. What she got was anything but.

“Ill people sitting there, and I’m one of them, for hours, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.”

Rosenberg, 83, couldn’t stop coughing. When she first arrived at the hospital, they hooked her up to an IV, checked her vitals, then wheeled her back out into the waiting room. She said it was overcrowded.

“I must have looked concerned because they said would you like to sit outside? I said yes, so they wheeled me outside and there were quite a number of people sitting outside too.”

One hour turned to two, then three, then four, as more and more sick people flooded the inside and outside of the ER.

“I saw a woman lying down on a bench because she was so sick she couldn’t stand. People were just outside waiting hours. That shouldn’t happen.”

Rosenberg waited seven hours to get admitted. She was sick, hungry, thirsty and exhausted.

“I’m wondering why did they have to get me over here in an ambulance to wait all of those hours.”

She’s fighting viral bronchitis and said she’s lucky she got a bed in the hospital. Now, she hopes something is done to keep sick people from waiting so long.

“Something has to be done about it because this is cruel. To have people, sick people waiting this long.”

Lee Health said they are not forcing people to wait outside. However, you should expect a longer wait right now. They’re directing people who need COVID-19 testing to go to pharmacies or urgent care clinics instead of the ER.

Lee Health’s hospitals as of Thursday morning were treating 480 COVID-19 patients.

Those overcrowded ERs are spilling over to urgent care centers. Doctors and nurses showed up to work at one MedExpress location in Lee County and found 50 people waiting outside. Another location started turning people away Wednesday evening because they had too many patients.

Almost every urgent care center WINK News called Thursday said they’re seeing a higher number of patients because of COVID, and people say that’s making it harder for them to get other care.

Tom Vanasse didn’t come to MedExpress for a COVID test, but he had another issue he wanted to get checked out.

“I’ve been here for about an hour and a half. I have an infected eye and I guess because of all the COVID-19 circumstances going on, they won’t let you into the building.”

He and several others are waiting patiently in their cars for care. Vanasse said he comes to this MedExpress often but has never waited so long.

“It is kind of frustrating just hanging around for hours on end not knowing when you were going to get in.”

MedExpress said they’ve seen an increased demand for COVID testing, as well as people coming in to be evaluated and treated for COVID, colds, and allergies.

Other urgent care centers like MD Now said they’re seeing more patients, too.

“I understand that people are just rushing in because of COVID to find out what their status is but it’s also frustrating for someone that needs to have something else done,” Vanasse said.

Emily Lincolnhol knows the feeling. She tried to get a health screening at MedExpress for her new job.

“They said that they weren’t taking any more patients due to the flood of patients that they have now so I need to call back in an hour to see if they would let me in to get a health screening.”

Now, she just hopes COVID cases slow down so wait times can go down, too.

“Not everything is COVID, so you know it would be nice if I could get that done, but it’s all right. Hopefully, the numbers go down.”

An employee at one of the urgent care centers said testing sites like CenturyLink used to take a lot of pressure off smaller medical centers, but now that a lot of state-run sites are gone, urgent care centers are seeing the impacts.