Virginia hospitals report surge in emergency room patients, but not because of COVID-19

Virginia News

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — With summer underway and most COVID restrictions being lifted across the country, emergency rooms are seeing a surge in patients — but not because of the virus. In most cases, this increase has nothing to do with COVID-19.

Doctors correlate the rise in patients to a combination of people getting injured or sick from engaging in social activities. In addition, others are becoming comfortable being in a hospital setting again and are ready to seek care after the pandemic.

“We are seeing it first hand. We are seeing increases in volumes,” said Dr. Deborah Vinton, the System Medical Director at HCA’s Henrico Doctors’ Hospital. “Patients are out and about. Many people are vaccinated and are getting back in social community gatherings. In doing so, they are either experiencing events where they suffered an injury or they are being exposed to different viral illnesses.”

She said people are comfortable enough to return to hospitals after justifiable COVID fears.

“They are willing to seek care now, whereas in the past year and a half, they may have stayed home or seek other venues,” Vinton said. “They know now that we are a safe option for them and they are comfortable with returning to hospitals again.”

Vinton added the surge of patient volumes has been seen in hospitals across the board, and doctors are noting that non-emergency visits are not returning at the same degree that the really sick patient visits are.

“There are a portion of patients who haven’t had that routine follow-up and a chronic condition has significantly worsened,” she said. “But there is also a patient population that has something new and needs to be addressed emergently. They are coming in and getting the care they need but may not have done so in the past year. They may have worsened at home if they didn’t come in a timely manner.”

In some hospitals, nursing shortages have increased the difficulty surrounding the influx of patients.

In September of last year, HCA was aiming to hire 500 registered nurses before the end of Nov. 2020. They’re still hiring.

“We are experiencing some nursing shortages but there have been tremendous efforts to bolster the resources available in the emergency department and the inpatient setting,” Vinton said. “In some cases, we have lowered our staffing to accommodate lower patient volumes with COVID. Now we really need to respond and increase to meet the need that is there.”

Vinton said the best way to solve the issues is for hospitals to internally evaluate and identify the needs they have.

Vinton added HCA hospitals are currently not having to divert patients from their facilities, but other hospitals may have to if it is not safe to accept more patients.

“From our site here in Henrico, we aren’t going on a diversion,” she said. “We want to keep our doors open to sick patients locally. At times, if volumes are really surging, there are certain venues where it is not safe to keep accepting patients that are coming in by ambulance. That is balanced by having ambulances go to sites that may not be as busy at the same time.”

But she said the biggest factor is still patients using healthcare resources again for the first time in over a year.

“Nationwide, people are seeing that uptick in the utilization of healthcare resources. It is appropriate and is the right thing. We know there is preventative care that needs to be obtained but we also know that people have real emergencies,” she said.

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