DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Emergency rooms continue to ask patients for patience, as health care systems remain overwhelmed with COVID cases and other patients. As a result, ER wait times can be long, as doctors try to prioritize patients.

Dr. Craig Skurcenski, vice president of emergency medicine at UPMC said patients might find themselves in the waiting room longer than they expect, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not being taken care of. The process of treating patients has just shifted.

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Skurcenski said the ER is here for everyone who needs it.

“We are open, we are ready,” he said.

This is despite several claims people have waited several hours without being seen. Skurcenski said the ER team is doing their best to see everyone as quickly as possible, but they are still dealing with high volumes of patients.

“There’s often a concern that you ‘didn’t see a doctor when in reality, you’re seeing part of that care team right away,” he said.

Skurcenski said the ER is designed to treat the sickest patients first.

“If someone presented with severe difficulty breathing or chest pain or a neurologic complaint, those patients are seen immediately, and they would go to a treatment care area,” he said.

However, there are a limited number of treatment rooms, so not every patient can be treated in an individual room. The waiting room has now become part of the treatment process.

“After that blood has drawn or after those tests are obtained, unfortunately, sometimes we have to have people return to the waiting room,” Skurcenski said.

Those test results can take several hours to come back.

“What that can give the impression of is that they have been waiting the whole time,” Skurcenski said.

Having patients wait for results in the waiting room used to be a rare occurrence. Skurcenski said there used to be a separate space where patients who had already been seen could wait for those results.

“[It] has really become almost a go-to or a standard approach because of the combination of the increased volumes that we’re seeing along with the space and staffing challenges,” he said.

This is a change brought about by the pandemic and COVID surges, but Skurcenski said that should not discourage people from coming in. It just might not be exactly what patients expact.

“We would ask them to just have a little bit of patience with us,” he said.

Skurcenski also said no one will be turned away from the ER, but he encourages people to take advantage of other options if they can. He said if people are having symptoms that could wait a day or two, try calling their doctor first.