Flu season gone; YRMC still full
This year's flu season has come and gone.
But the emergency department at Yuma Regional Medical Center hasn't slowed down a bit, said Stewart Hamilton, vice president of medical affairs.
"We have a much higher volume in the ER than last year," he said.
In January, Hamilton estimated a 25 percent increase in the number of patients seen in the emergency room compared with last year's numbers.
And a lingering flu season isn't to blame.
"It's the volume of people," Hamilton said.
Depending on the time of the day, the hospital has been at full capacity constantly this winter season.
"The ER is full. The hospital is full," Hamilton said. "We are constantly moving lots of people in and out of there."
The whole situation is a ripple effect. More patients coming to the emergency room each day generally means there is a larger percentage of people who need to be admitted, Hamilton said.
But there may not be a bed for the patient because of the time it takes to discharge yesterday's patient.
"It doesn't just happen. The patient doesn't disappear in five minutes because the doctor discharged him," Hamilton said. "It takes time."
With more patients than available beds, nurses and doctors at YRMC are working to keep the backlog of patients to a minimum.
"People are working like crazy," Hamilton said. "We have opened every area in the hospital we can use to free up beds. We typically have it cleared up by the afternoon."
This is an issue any hospital in a town with winter visitors deals with, Hamilton said.
"We are no different than any other hospital in the state," he said. "In Phoenix, in California, we are all full. But we are working through it the best we can. And we don't ever turn people away."
Hamilton said it is hard to estimate the average wait in the emergency room.
"It depends on the day and the time of the day," Hamilton said. "But the fuller we are, the longer you are going to have to wait, particularly with minor injuries."
Nationally, the average wait in ERs for noncritical care is between two and four hours. In Yuma, the wait is typically four hours. Patients who arrive by ambulance receive first priority, which extends the waiting time for those less seriously ill.
"I can understand the patient's frustrations," Hamilton said. "But it's not like a restaurant where it is first-come, first served. We have to look at the person's needs and prioritize. It can be frustrating. But people need to understand there is a rationalization behind it."
Hamilton recommended several alternatives for people looking for medical care.
One alternative may be a phone call to the hospital's CareLine (1-877-YRM-CARE), a round-the-clock service created by the hospital in 1998. Initially, callers can choose among talking to a live registered nurse, using a referral service or choosing from a menu of audio topics.
A nurse is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
People who still believe they need immediate medical assistance can visit one of the urgent care facilities.
"Many people don't have physicians, so they gravitate toward the ER," Hamilton said. "But if they do have a physician, please try to schedule an appointment with them for things like earaches."
Michelle Kann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6855.