A double whammy of COVID-related cases and more common respiratory ailments twice prompted Rochester General Hospital to divert emergency transports from its emergency room this week.
The step, driven by the demands of new patients entering the emergency department, was very unusual but necessary, Dr. Robert Mayo, Rochester Regional Health's chief medical officer, said in a Zoom news conference Friday.
"The hospitals are very strained and so we're concerned about that," he said.
The "diversion" policy does not prevent all people from entering the emergency room — individuals can still walk and drive for admission — but directs emergency transports to other hospitals during four-hour windows.
Mayo acknowledged it's been "many years" since the Rochester General system had to turn to its emergency diversion.
"They're designed to give the EDs (emergency departments) just a little bit of space to catch up with patient care," Mayo said.
Chip Partner, a spokesman for the University of Rochester Medical Center, said the URMC hospitals faced "a little additional stress" with the diverted patients, but were able to handle the cases. Rochester General notified URMC beforehand — a common steps with the diversions — that it would be diverting ambulances for the four-hour windows.
With the highly contagious omicron variant, hospitals are seeing continued upticks in new patients.
That increase comes at the same time as hospitals, like many workplaces, are facing staff shortages because some of their own employees have also contracted the virus.
Mayo said Friday that there is good news of late, however. While the number of patients is increasing, fewer are showing severe symptoms, and fewer are now requiring ventilators for treatment. Mayo said it's unclear whether the hospitals are seeing "the tail end of delta," which was the initial COVID variant in the pandemic, or the newcomer, the omicron variant.
At its peak, about 50 patients were on ventilators within the Rochester General system, Mayo said. That had been around 30 in recent weeks, and has now dropped to 13.
Ventilators are typically used for patients struggling the most with breathing.
Hospitals have also been taxed by the number of individuals going to emergency rooms for COVID testing to see whether they have been stricken by the virus.
Last week, county Health Department Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza urged residents to find other routes for testing.
"Please avoid the emergency room," he said. "If you can, please avoid urgent care. Go to a pharmacy, or if there’s space at one of our county health department testing sites, please go there. We want to preserve the health care workforce as much as we can."
(Includes reporting by staff writers Sarah Taddeo and Marcia Greenwood)
Contact Gary Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at gcraig1.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Rochester General Hospital diverts ambulances from ER as COVID surges