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'And That's What Made Me Mad:' Suburban Family Experience Long Wait Times In Emergency Rooms As COVID Cases Surge

CHICAGO (CBS) – One of the trickle-down effects of those surging numbers is the skyrocketing wait times in hospital emergency rooms. They're being measured in hours, not minutes in many cases.

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas introduces us to one suburban family who learned that lesson the hard way.

"My uncle is 83-years-old, and my 79-year-old dad brought him to the emergency room."

Maura Dunleavy wrote us about a long wait for her Uncle Edward... at the Palos Hospital ER.

She wants everyone to know about what it's like in an emergency room these days.

"Are you telling me to leave? They said yes. So, I left. I left my brother there alone. I didn't feel very good about it."

Brian Dunleavy brought his brother to the hospital. He believes seniors should be allowed someone at their side.

"Old people and babies should have an advocate. And that's what made me mad."

The other thing that made Brian mad, the wait time for his brother. After some testing, Edward waited 17 hours for treatment in the ER, according to his family.

"No one asked him if he was hungry, nothing. He slept in a wheelchair. He scrounged up some potato chips.

Emergency rooms are overwhelmed.

Palos Hospital told us to speak with Dr. Michael Bauer who is the medical director at Lake Forest Hospital. It's in the same Northwestern Medicine network as the Palos Hospital.

He has not seen 17-hour waits at his hospital, but acknowledges, wait times are high these days.

"Two, three, four even five hours, depending on the environment."

But Dr. Bauer says there's something we can all do to help. Don't go to the ER if it's not truly an emergency. He offered this plea:

"Can't stress enough. Emergency rooms are not for COVID testing. We want to take care of everyone who's having a problem. If you're having severe symptoms, significant difficulty breathing, shortness of breath at rest, very intense pain, high fever for several days."

Back to Edward -- Dr. Bauer explains why his brother could not wait with him in the ER.

"When it's getting physically impossible to distance and maintain a safe environment at a lot of times, unfortunately, we have to resort to not having anybody that's unnecessary to be there, waiting around," Dr. Bauer said.

"I'm not knocking Palos Hospital, have had great care from them and the family over 40 years, but something ought to be done, especially for the old people," Dunleavy said.

Dr. Bauer tells us that patients are prioritized based on their condition, so anyone in the ER with a true, life and death emergency, will not experience a long wait.

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