HUDSON — Columbia Memorial Health is experiencing higher-than-normal wait times due in part to staffing shortages, hospital officials said Wednesday.
“If you are experiencing a medical emergency, the CMH Emergency Department is here for you,” according to a CMH social media post. The post urges people with minor ailments to visit one of the CMH Rapid Care Centers in Catskill, Copake or Valatie.
“Numerous factors impacting the entire nation are creating unprecedented challenges for health care providers,” CMH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clifford Belden said in a statement. “Top among these factors are the continued resurgence of COVID-19 cases and a critical shortage of clinical staff. Unfortunately, our region is not immune from these challenges.”
Many hospitals, including CMH, are seeing a record number of patients with flu or COVID-like symptoms, Belden said.
“While at the same time, pre-existing shortages of clinical staff, combined with normal attrition and government actions such as the vaccine mandate, have triggered an increase in hospital staff resignations across the nation, and here at home,” Belden said.
CMH also shared a post that included examples of when to go to the emergency department and examples of when to visit Rapid Care.
The CMH emergency department is for treating severe medical illnesses and injuries such as chest pain, heart attack or stroke symptoms, severe COVID symptoms, head injuries, severe injuries or bleeding, severe abdominal pain or overdose, according to the post.
CMH Rapid Care is to treat minor illnesses or injuries that can not wait for a doctor’s appointment, such as sore throat or cough, flu symptoms, mild COVID symptoms or testing, minor injuries or lacerations, headaches, or possible broken bones, the post says.
“Given that these issues are ubiquitous nationally and regionally, we have had to adapt what would be our normal protocols to the situation at hand,” Belden said. “For example, in a typical setting, when our ED or inpatient capacity is at maximum, we would transfer patients to other regional hospitals that have excess capacity. However, since virtually all regional hospitals are in the same position, they are unable to handle the transfers, leading to backups throughout the regional system. We are seeing these conditions across the state and nation.”
The CMH website displays current wait times for the Emergency Department and Rapid Care centers. Wednesday afternoon, the Emergency Department wait time was two hours and all Rapid Care wait times were between 20 and 30 minutes, according to the site.
“CMH has responded to these unique challenges by prioritizing our staff resources and deploying them to areas of greatest need,” Belden said. “This has caused some disruption in the operating hours for in-person visits at our rapid care centers, which we regret. However, we have engaged our telehealth service capacity to offset those impacts and provide an easily accessible alternative for persons who are seeking care for non-life threatening illnesses.”
The Emergency Department at Columbia Memorial Health is one of the busiest emergency care centers in the Hudson Valley region, according to the CMH website.
“Throughout the pandemic, and especially now, our staff have tirelessly worked for the residents of Columbia and Greene counties, working long hours and extra shifts. They are persevering through the second wave of a deadly pandemic that is physically and emotionally taxing. And day after day they report to their units to care for this community. It is that spirit of caring and commitment that will carry us through this challenging time.”
CMH posted online Wednesday morning informing the public Rapid Care-Copake is offering telehealth visits only this Wednesday and Thursday.
“As EMS coordinator I can tell you that we’ve been notified that they are on diversion for accepting patients by ambulance,” Columbia County EMS Coordinator P.J. Keeler said. “in otherwords, basically when we pick up a patient, unless they’re critical, and if they’re critical they would go right there, but if not we would advise them of the extended wait times, and encourage the patient to request to be taken to another facility.”
Albany Medical Center, St. Peters Hospital in Albany and Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck are some of the other facilities a person could be brought to instead of CMH. According to Google Maps Albany Med. is 36.2 miles from CMH and Northern Dutchess Hospital is 25.2 miles away from CMH.
Diversion has happened at other times for other facilities Keeler said. He explained anytime any facility within the region goes on diversion it can add stress on the entire system.
“When any facility within our region goes on diversion it affects the availability of recourses able to respond to emergencies for our residents,” Keeler said. “For example, if an ambulance were to come pick up PJ Keeler here and say hey CMH is on diversion, do you want to go to another facility, and I said yeah and we go up to Albany, its an hour up and an hour back. So it takes that ambulance resource out of service for a while.”
At an unrelated press conference in Niagara County on Wednesday Gov. Kathy Hochul was asked about potential staffing shortages at hospitals next week in relation to mandated vaccine requirements for hospital staff. She said they want to make sure there are no disruptions and thanked health care professionals.
“To those who refuse, we will find replacements,” Hochul said.