HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Hospital emergency rooms are facing two major shortages: not enough beds for patients and not enough staff to care for them. The ER staff at UPMC Harrisburg spoke candidly about the pressure they feel every day.
UPMC said these shortages are caused by more than just the recent Omicron surge, and the shortages mean longer wait times for patients and a heavier workload for staff. Everyone is feeling the strain, describing the last two years as “stressful” and “very, very exhausting.”
That stress has only increased in the last weeks and months of 2021 into the beginning of 2022, as demand for emergency care continues to rise.
“The exhaustion from the last 22 months is really catching up with us,” emergency department nurse Miranda Rhoads said.
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After six years in the emergency department, Rhoads said the last few months have been some of her hardest.
“This isn’t what we thought we would be doing when we were in nursing school,” she explained.
With hospitals facing severe staffing shortages, Rhoads said nurses are taking care of twice as many patients as they normally would and are working much longer hours. Sometimes, nurses are working up to 60 hours a week.
“Not only are you physically exhausted, you’re mentally exhausted and sometimes your heart hurts,” she described.
Beds are also in short supply, forcing physicians and other healthcare workers to treat patients in less than ideal environments.
“Very, very sick patients, we may be treating them in a hallway, doing all these things that normally would be reserved for your larger rooms,” Community LifeTeam paramedic Josiah Einwechter said.
Einwechter said he often starts the ER’s treatment plan for patients in the ambulance. The shortage of beds means the wait in the hospital’s waiting room can sometimes last for hours, and not every patient can afford to be without treatment for that long.
“It literally is coming down to, can this person tolerate waiting four hours versus this person that can’t tolerate waiting more than an hour,” Einwechter said.
Healthcare staff said there are ways the community can help relieve the pressure. UPMC is asking people to call their doctor or go to urgent care if they don’t have a life-threatening emergency.
“Try your over-the-counter, try your basic self-care, your hot cup of tea and things like that, and resting first, before immediately calling us,” Einwechter said. He also said people should not be coming to the ER for a COVID test.
Einwechter and Rhoads also asked people to be patient with healthcare workers. They said everyone is doing their best.
“[There’s] nothing worse than having a really hard day and being physically exhausted already and then just maybe not getting the kindest remarks from a patient that you’re trying to help,” Rhoads said.
Einwechter added, “The systems are full, the providers are exhausted, and a little patience, a little kindness goes a long way.”
abc27 also reached out to WellSpan Health, Penn State Health, and Lancaster General Health. All three health systems reported similar challenges, including seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients.