Hospital overcrowding forces Boston patients to be treated in other states

Massachusetts

BOSTON (WPRI) — Throughout Southern New England, hospitals are nearly at capacity with a low number of beds available for patients.

“Our hospital has 47 emergency room beds, and many times over the last few months, we’ve had 60, 70, 80, 90 patients waiting, trying to be cared for in our emergency department of 47 beds,” Interim President and CEO of Kent Hospital Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan said Wednesday.

Boston MedFlight CEO Maura Hughes told WBZ that over the last week or so, helicopters have been forced to bring critically ill patients to hospitals in other states, like Rhode Island, Connecticut, or New Hampshire, due to the lack of available beds in the intensive care unit.

“It’s not a great solution,” Hughes said. “Particularly for the patient’s family, when you tell them ‘Yes, we have a bed. But it’s in Connecticut.'”

According to Boston MedFlight, a troublesome “perfect storm” is filling local hospital beds, and not just in the intensive care ward.

Experts say COVID-19 is a fraction of the problem, but not the problem itself. Boston MedFlight has been carrying sicker patients because many people put off getting medical care for their health issues during the pandemic.

Seriously understaffed hospitals are also part of the problem. Almost one in five healthcare workers have quit since spring 2020 — half a million this past August alone — according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Hospitals are also seeing an influx of patients with behavioral health needs, a problem that existed before the pandemic.

“The emergency rooms are taking care of those patients, but they really need psychiatric care, not medical care,” Hughs explained.

To help relieve some of the stress on emergency departments in Rhode Island, health leaders are urging patients to seek care for non-emergency issues at places like primary care providers or urgent care centers.

These types of issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Less severe cases of the flu
  • Back pain
  • Minor cuts
  • Sore throats
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Most cases of norovirus, or stomach flu

“If you go to the emergency room for these non-urgent but important health issues, patients will experience long wait times in the emergency departments, and patients may end up paying much more than they otherwise needed to,” R.I. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott explained.

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