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Getting Answers: hospital emergency room wait times

Emergency room wait times in western Massachusetts have improved compared to this past November.
Updated: May. 10, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Emergency room wait times in western Massachusetts have improved compared to this past November. We’re digging deeper as staff shortages and overcapacity still remain top issues for some hospitals.

“The number of people waiting for less than an hour, in other words seeing a doctor within an hour, has risen from 53 percent to 70 percent,” said Baystate Health President and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack.

Keroack referred to a vast reduction in wait times to be seen in the emergency room compared to November, when some patients reported waiting hours to be seen.

Right now, 70 percent of patients at Baystate Health get seen by a doctor in less than an hour. In November, it was only 53 percent and now only four percent of patients wait four or more hours to be seen, compared to 14 percent just six months ago.

The average wait time to see a doctor is now down to 35 minutes compared to 50 minutes in November.

Keroack told us they made changes.

“We have something now called the rapid evaluation unit, where providers actually go out to the waiting room after a person’s registered every once in a while to check on them to make sure they’re not getting any worse,” Keroack added.

For colds or other illnesses that are not as severe, Keraock explained, “There’s also called something called the fast track where you bypass the emergency room if you have something simple like a sore throat or something.”

However, Keroack said there are still challenges.

“…But the pressures are still there. We are still seeing an awful lot of people coming to the hospital and a lot of challenges in getting patients discharged because of staffing shortages in homecare and in skilled nursing facilities,” Keroack noted.

Keroack told us that the number of people in hospital beds is still high at five to 10 percent overcapacity, so someone who is waiting in the emergency room, who is admitted to the hospital, may not be in a hospital bed as they are using surge spaces.

There are still a large number of staff openings at the hospital.

“We still have 1,800 openings for 13,000 employees, so that’s a fairly significant openings rate,” Keroack said.

There’s an added problem of patients who cannot be discharged due to lack of capacity at home care agencies and nursing homes.

“There are, right now, over 100 patients at Baystate who don’t need to be in the hospital who could be in another kind of setting,” Keroack added.

Mercy Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Roose said there have been improvements in addressing staffing shortages with the number of open positions dropping, but he could not quantify specifics or numbers.

“We have a much better glide path and [are] much less short staffed now than we were before, so our capacity has improved tremendously,” Roose explained.

He could not give specifics on emergency room wait times compared to November and said it is hard to access.

“Our average is we still strive that every patient is seen in under 30 minutes by an initial evaluation by a provider. That means they may still be there for some time for that ongoing workup and the evaluation…Often times, over 60 to 70 percent of patients are seen in less than 30 minutes,” Roose noted.