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Doctors Say There Are Multiple Reasons For Spike In Emergency Room Wait Times

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Doctors at hospitals throughout the area say they're noticing a spike in emergency room wait times, and they say it's for a myriad of reasons.

The long wait times aren't just at major hospitals like UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland. Doctors KDKA's Amy Wadas spoke to say it's happening at smaller hospitals too, and they stress it could take a while before we start to see things go back to the way they were before the pandemic.

"There's more demand. People are a little sicker now and hospitals, in addition to the ER, are working at max capacity," Dr. Don Yealy, the chief medical officer and chair of Emergency Medicine at UPMC, said.

Yealy said some people might be sicker now because they delayed their care because they were afraid to come to the hospital during the height of the pandemic. At WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital, President and CEO Dr. David Hess said the hospital has noticed ER wait times ticking up in the last two weeks.

"Our COVID numbers continue to rise. We are still seeing many patients in the ER every day that are having COVID or COVID symptoms," said Dr. Hess.

Doctors said wait times vary. For example, Dr. Hess says non-critical patients can expect to wait about two hours during peak times. Doctors at Heritage Valley say their non-critical patients could be waiting about three. However, there are some recent claims online that people are waiting 10 to 12 hours.

"It would be very unusual to wait 10 hours to start care. It's possible you could have an extended emergency department visit because of the level of sickness, kind of testing, and care needed that could take 10 to 12 or 24 hours," said Dr. Yealy.

In addition to increased demand, doctors say staff shortages are also to blame. Hospitals are doing what they can to maximize resources to get patients the care they need until ER beds opens up.

"When the volume is elevated during certain times of the day, we put a physician or a physician assistant in triage so they are seen in tandem with a triage nurse. And at that time, they can start testing so that part of the evaluation is started," said Medical Director of Emergency Services for Heritage Valley Health System Dr. Ron Leckey.

Overall, doctors want to reiterate if you're coming into the ER with a life-threatening condition, you will be moved to the top of the line and treated right away. However, if you're coming in for something like a sprained ankle, you could be waiting a while.

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