ER wait times are increasing despite decline in COVID-19 cases

Published: February 22, 2022 5:45 PM EST
Updated: February 22, 2022 10:55 PM EST

Emergency room wait times were long on Tuesday night. Lee Health and NCH say more people than usual are headed to the emergency room even though the healthcare systems are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients.

The emergency room is the last place anyone wants to go, but be prepared to wait a while if you have to go. WINK News spoke with John, who said he waited several hours Monday night. “They said it be an hour. It could be five hours. And it ended up being what, 10 or 12 hours,” said John.

John brought his mother-in-law to one of Lee Health’s emergency rooms, fearing she had a stroke. Doctors and nurses did tests right away. Then the long wait began, not inside, but outside. “All three of us like froze to death,” John said. “And we had my mother-in-law wrapped up probably in six blankets laying on a concrete bench.”

Lee Health has repeatedly said that wait times are longer than average over the last several weeks. The hospital system is utilizing a surge plan put in place during the pandemic to get patients in and out as quickly as possible.

“You’ve got what seems like a very busy season for us here, you’ve got the pandemic, our infection numbers are still pretty high for the community, we’re still seeing a significant number of patients coming to the ER for COVID related symptoms. And then you’ve got you know, the staff that are out sick with COVID are caring for their own loved ones,” said Lee Health Chief Officer Armando Llechu.

Llechu said the staff is working overtime and doing whatever it takes to help people, but after his long night in the cold, John said something has got to change, “you think they’re there to take care of people. But they were just like, oh nothing we can do. Just have to wait.”

Lee Health hopes everyone watching will first utilize other options like its free telehealth program. The fewer people who come to the ER, the shorter the wait time will be.