By Alberto Gilman
A rise in flu cases has led to a shortage of hospital beds, plus drama and a long wait time in the emergency room.
The New York State Department of Health released their Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report with data collected during the week of December 3 and reported that all 62 state counties have reported flu cases with Influenza Type A having the highest positive rates. Children from the ages of five to 17 years of age across the state had the highest reported cases, with 53,941. Adults 65 and older were reported at 6,675 cases as of the end of that week. The Health Connector Portal reports that 1,446 cases of influenza have been recorded in Orange County, with 1,314 of Type A cases during that time.
“Incidents of Flu, RSV, and other seasonal illnesses continue to rise across the country, and right here at home, said Katherine Dabroski, Vice President, Marketing, Public Relations and Development for Montefiore Saint Luke’s. “The expeditious triage and treatment of patients at Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall is our priority. Our exceptional team of doctors, providers, and staff work diligently to ensure we are meeting the healthcare needs of our community.”
As of December 8, St. Luke’s reported 166 total beds the prior day with only 34 available the prior day. Neighboring hospital Garnet Medical Center reported 421 total beds the prior day with only 55 available the prior day.
The wait in the ER can be frightfully long. Rosanna Rossi of Newburgh reports that her mother spent more than 20 hours in the Montefiore Saint Luke’s Cornwall ER during the second of two recent trips there, both of which were punctuated by emergency lockdowns prompted by street violence outside the hospital doors.
The first occurred on November 21. Rossi dialed 911 when her mother Giovanna passed out. The elder Rossi was transported by ambulance to the emergency room, where her daughter and son-in-law followed.
During the course of her six hours in the ER, the hospital was placed on lockdown, in which patients, staff and visitors were prevented from leaving. The lockdown order was lifted after several hours. Giovanna was admitted to a hospital room at approximately 11:30 p.m. She was treated and discharged late the following day, to be home in time for Thanksgiving.
But she was back there exactly one week later, on November 28, under similar circumstances. This time visitors were asked to wait outside the building during another lockdown.
(City of Newburgh Police, when contacted about the two incidents, referred the matter to Michael Neppl, the City of Newburgh chief of staff. He confirmed that the two incidents are under police investigation, but provided no further information.)
“As we were waiting in the emergency room, it seemed that the staff was particularly overwhelmed,” Rossi said. “Lots of kids, lots of babies with the flu, I’m assuming RSV that’s been going around. It was difficult to get anyone to help.”
After being allowed back inside the ER, Rossi was told her mother had been diagnosed with Influenza A and would be admitted. After a few more hours of waiting, and believing that her mother would soon be taken upstairs, she went home.
“Based on previous visits, the presumption was that she’d be admitted shortly,” Rossi said. “And she told us to go home and get some rest.”
Early the next morning Rossi called the hospital to find out her mother’s room number
“Imagine my surprise when I wake up the next morning,” Rossi said, “and I call and they had no room number for her. I thought that’s very odd.”
She then called the ER and was told her mother was still on the ER floor waiting for a room.
Furious, she asked why she had not been informed or updated about her mother’s status. The person answering the ER phone reportedly told her “it’s not our policy to call family members.”
Arriving at the hospital, Rossi was also informed that other patients were waiting for beds.
Rossi also had a concern about her mother’s normal medication regimen that was interrupted by the visit. A heart patient, Giovanna has numerous prescription pills to take on a daily basis. During her lengthy stay in the ER, however, the regimen was largely skipped, with the apparent exception of an injection that was administered in lieu of a prescribed blood thinner.
After more than 20 hours of waiting, Giovanna was taken to a hospital room on the fifth floor where she remained until Thursday, December 1 before being discharged. Since the hospital visit, Giovanna has returned home and is being cared for.
“She’s doing a little better. Her walking is a little weaker, she gets tired,” Rossi says. “We have a nurse, who comes in twice a week as well as physical therapy twice a week. So that’s a plus.”
Upon returning home, Rossi sent an email to Patricia Benninger, Director of Patient Relations for the hospital. Benninger, via email , expressed her apologies on behalf of the hospital and that the appropriate representatives were looking into the case. A full investigation, according to Benninger can take several weeks.
Benninger, when contacted by the Mid Hudson Times, referred the matter to Dabroski, the hospital spokesperson. While she did not address the extended wait time and lockdowns specifically, Dabroski did offer this advice about what to do when deciding to come to the Emergency Department.
• If you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty completing routine activities of daily living such as getting to the bathroom, walking up the stairs or getting dressed please speak with your doctor or come to the Emergency Department.
• Patients with gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea should monitor their hydration status. Signs that you may need help with maintaining hydration include symptoms of feeling lightheaded when standing up, not making urine at least every 6 hours while awake, your urine appears very dark yellow or if you are unable to eat or drink anything for greater than 24 hours.
• For individuals with loved ones who may not be able to express their needs or symptoms well, be on the lookout for changes in behavior and increasing levels of confusions.
One might add that anyone taken to the ER could be in for a long wait.