25 Investigates: E.R. wait time crisis not improving

With diabetes and hardened arteries, Danny Daggett of Stoughton has spent a lot of time in the hospital.

But he says he’s never had a wait like this: over 16 hours.

“This is at the point where I wanted to leave,” he said, referring to the 8-hour mark. “They just didn’t have the people.”

Danny says he was at Steward-owned Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton for an emergency blood transfusion scheduled by his primary care doctor.

“We kept going up to ask, you know: ‘When we going to be seen?’” he said. “They couldn’t answer us.”

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healy (D) has called on Steward to sell Good Samaritan and the 8 other hospitals it operates in the state over concerns about the company’s financial health and the impact on patients.

Steward did not respond when 25 Investigates asked them about Daggett’s experience.

25 investigates analyzed Medicare data and found examples of Massachusetts hospital E.R. wait times exceeding the national median: including Good Samaritan, South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Boston Medical Center, Mass General and UMass Memorial in Worcester.

The average length of stay in emergency rooms grew to 5.8 hours from October to December 2022, according to CHIA Mass.

That’s up from 4.2 hours from October to December 2018.

Massachusetts is tied for the 2nd longest emergency room waits in the country, according to a 2023 study by pre-settlement legal funding company High Rise Financial –

Hospitals blame long wait times at hospitals on sicker patients, staffing shortages, mental health emergencies and a lack of beds at facilities that treat people after they are discharged from the hospital.

The crisis prompted the State Health Department and at least one Massachusetts-based hospital group to urge people to avoid the E.R. for minor health issues and routine medical care.

They say non-urgent visits take resources from people in dire need of care.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association did not agree to an on-camera interview.

They said in a statement: “They are working around the clock to meet the needs of patients and to advocate for solutions in partnership with elected leaders.”

Dr. Matthew Mostofi, associate chair of emergency medicine at Tufts in Boston, said people with trauma, chest pain, paralysis, internal bleeding, and other critical conditions need the resources and specialists an E.R. provides.

At Tufts, he said that one out of five visitors to the emergency room are admitted to a hospital bed because they need specialized care.

But he said up to 30 percent receive minimal testing and treatment and go home.

“If you come to an ER and you don’t have a life-threatening emergency, that’s okay,” he said. “We will take care of you. You know the downside of that, it just comes at a cost.”

That cost is in time and money.

With insurance, a typical E.R. copay starts at about $150.

Without insurance, the average bill is $2,600.

Baseline insurance copays for primary or urgent care clinics typically run between $25 and $75.

Barbara Spivak, a primary care doctor in Watertown and the current president of the Mass Medical Society, said everyone should have an identifiable primary care physician.

She said finding a primary care doctor can be difficult because of the nationwide shortage.

But for issues like the common cold, sprains, or cuts and bruises - that should be an individual’s first call.

She recommends that people identify a primary care physician and schedule regular checkups before an emergency happens even if it takes 4 months to get the first appointment.

“There are also intermediate places, of urgent care and walk-in centers that for people who are not sure and who are at low risk that they can go there, particularly at night and on weekends,” she said.

There are currently over 14,000 Urgent Care centers in the U.S., and the current growth rate for new centers is seven percent, according to the Urgent Care Association, an industry trade group.

25 Investigates found 3 urgent care clinics within a mile of WFXT-TV’s Dedham studio.

Hospitals are required by law to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Urgent care and walk-ins often require payment at the time of service. 

Daggett said waiting so long for emergency room care was challenging because he did not have access to food or the medications he takes.

“You could tell they were kind of frustrated,” he said. “But, no, nobody apologized.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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