Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Visits to the emergency room as the wait times at Spectrum Health rise, which causes longer wait time at the hospital

Visits to the emergency room as the wait times at Spectrum Health rise, which causes longer wait time at the hospital

GRAND RAPIDS, MI Before coming to the emergency room, Spectrum Health's emergency rooms are packed, and the Grand Rapids-based health system encourages residents with non-critical health problems to visit an urgent care center or primary care provider.

We're asking patients to more deliberately consider seeking emergency care and more mindfully evaluate the choices that are available in the community, such as their primary care doctor, urgent care, and virtual options before they go to the emergency department, said Dr. Erica Michiels, associate medical director of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital emergency center.

Loring an afternoon press conference on Friday, September 24, Michiels spoke to the media about the rise in emergency room visits.

She and others said the increase is due to numerous factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Since January, the increase has been observed month by month. Emergency room visits at pre-pandemic levels in August, were reported in September.

Were seeing viruses exploding now that we only see in the wintertime around Christmas, and weve seen all our summer viruses surge now, Michiels added. So, we have a type of layers of viral surge that is happening right now.

Other contributors are the typical health emergencies, such as broken bones, that send patients to the emergency room in the summer.

Normally, the children's hospital would see about 160 patients each day. But thats now sometimes as high as 240 visitors per day. Patients who come to the emergency room with non-critical conditions may now have wait times that are significantly longer than normal, according to Michiels.

Wait times at the children's hospital were typically 10 minutes or less.

Despite the rise, doctors were cautious to point out that patients suffering from strokes, chest pain, moderate asthma flare ups and fractures should still arrive in the emergency room.

We are stretched thin, and our buffers are less than they have been in previous years, said Dr. Nicholas Kuhl, the medical director of adult emergency medicine at Spectrum Health Butterworth. But they are still there, and we are not full.

Residents should not come to the emergency room for a COVID-19 test, according to Officials. Other conditions such as mild asthma, a rash, sore throat, and cough can wait for urgent care or if he or she is in person with samaritans.

Kuhl added that wait time at Spectrum Butterworth's emergency room has been up from an average of 10 minutes to an estimated 20 minutes.

But there are times when it may be considerably higher than that during surge, and patients may have to be in our waiting room even a few hours rarely, he said.

While wait times are up, the percentage of patients that correspond to the highest complexity or even a critical care level are rising. Such patients have increased 20% in these 12 months compared to the year prior, Kuhl stated.

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