PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – Bob Kumins was panicked.
“I was just hoping not to die,” Kumins told Eyewitness News.
Kumins was recounting a day in October when he had gone to get acupuncture and started feeling pains in his chest. Kumins’ acupuncturist dialed 911 and requested that an ambulance take him to The Miriam Hospital, which was close by.
“We were told immediately that the Miriam emergency room was closed to incoming traffic,” Kumins said. When an ambulance arrived, the EMS crew told him Rhode Island Hospital was diverting ambulances, too.
“The two best hospitals which are close by, I can’t go to?” Kumins recalled thinking. “This is just unreal.”
Kumins isn’t alone. An Eyewitness News review of R.I. Department of Health data shows the number of hospital diversions — when emergency rooms stop accepting some incoming ambulance traffic — have skyrocketed in the last year, close to doubling from 2017 to 2018.
The data shows the total number of diversions at the state’s hospitals ballooned from 44 in 2014 to 322 by late October of this year. Total hours on diversion were also up.
On Friday, a Health Department spokesman told Eyewitness News officials planned to have a conference call with hospital leaders to discuss what facilities have been seeing in an effort to determine solutions.
While the Health Department blames several factors for the increase in diversions, some health care providers point to the closure of Pawtucket’s Memorial Hospital as causing a trickle-down effect.
When asked about the trend in November, Lifespan, the owner of Rhode Island’s largest hospital, said the surge of patients they’ve seen in the wake of Memorial’s closure is “among the most pressing challenges facing our hospitals.”
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Fire Chief William Sisson said the closure of the hospital and the diversion issue have taken a toll on their citizens and their emergency services.
“Now instead of going to Memorial we have to go to Miriam Hospital,” Sisson said. “If Miriam or any other hospital is on diversion now, we have to start hunting for another facility. Now you have to compound this throughout the Blackstone Valley and the state, because now we’re moving patients to other facilities that are utilized by other departments. We’re compounding the problem.”
Dr. James Fanale, the CEO of Memorial’s parent company, Care New England, said it could be time for Rhode Island to follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps and put an end to hospital diversions.
“It will drive us to figure out ways to move people more quickly through the hospital and free up the emergency department,” he said.
Kumins eventually got transported to Roger Williams Medical Center, where he said he spent hours on a gurney in the hallway waiting for care.
Fanale said stories like Kumins’ point to the over utilization of emergency departments in Rhode Island and the need to improve the health care system as a whole.