Skipping the ER often the way to avoid long wait times

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 12:09 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 22, 2021 at 6:44 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - People putting off health care during the pandemic and staffing shortages are some of the factors contributing to long waiting lines at hospitals. Health officials say for non-critical services, it’s often best to seek help elsewhere.

One of the areas people tend to notice the most is the wait times in the emergency department. Nobody comes in with an appointment and providers say they take patients based on how dire their need is.

That means the emergency department might not be the best option. “When we think about the emergency department, we think about ABC. Airway, breathing, and circulation,” said Beth Schiller, owner of Champlain Medical Urgent Care. She said when people are having trouble breathing or chest pain, those are times people should immediately go to the emergency department. However, for other needs, Schiller said wait times for walk-ins at Champlain Medical Urgent Care are usually less than an hour. “All of your illnesses, upper respiratory infections. We see people with all kinds of strains and sprains.”

The list of illnesses and injuries they’re able to treat is extensive and quick. If you go to the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, it’s a much different story.

“Like I said, dehumanizing to wait there,” said Ashley Lafleche, who was there in July while experiencing a mental health crisis. She said she was only in the waiting room for an hour, but it took 18 to discharge her without complete next steps in place. Lafleche said she felt like they discharged her prematurely and without consulting her. “It’s really important to be thorough with someone’s departure and having them leave, versus trying to get them out because you need space.” She said staff across the hospital seemed overwhelmed.

UVMMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Clauss said the emergency department is seeing more people who put off care during covid. In September, the emergency department saw roughly 1,000 more patients than in September of 2020.

When people enter the emergency department they are triaged by medical professionals to determine how urgent the need is. “If we ask them to wait, it’s not because they shouldn’t be there or because we don’t want them there, it’s because we’ve determined they can wait. When we can get them the care they need, that’s exactly what we plan to do,” Clauss said.

Clauss and Schiller say going to a primary care doctor or urgent care for issues not needing to be seen immediately will probably minimize your wait time. If someone goes to urgent care and needs more medical help, the staff there will direct them to the emergency department. “If they’re sort of on the edge and may or may not need an emergency department visit, we will make a phone call to triage over at the emergency department to give them a synopsis of what’s coming to them,” Schiller said.

Schiller said in the case of a mental health crisis, the emergency department is the place to go.

The Vermont Agency of Human Services launched an investigation into long medical wait times last month. Part of that includes collecting feedback from the public. They’re holding in-person listening sessions on October 27th at 5:30 p.m. and on November 4th at 12 p.m. They’re also taking feedback via e-mail.

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