Some Nashville hospitals experiencing overcrowded emergency rooms

WSMV's Tosin Fakile has the latest from hospitals.
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 7:33 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - If a sick patient needs to go the emergency room, ERs have been overflowing for the last month and a lot of those patients are sick with the flu or other respiratory illnesses, according to doctors in Nashville.

Dr. Eric Greenfield at Ascension St. Thomas said most emergency physicians see about two patients an hour. Recently, ER doctors on average are now seeing at least 10% more patients than that, sometimes even more.

Emergency departments expect winter season to be busy, but for the last month or so, the emergencies keep coming through the ER doors. And doctors are seeing everyone from the typical ER patients to patients with respiratory illnesses.

“Chest pain, abdominal pain, trauma, various medical illness,” said Greenfield, an emergency physician at Ascension St. Thomas. “The data supports this, too. The patients that are coming for non-influenza complaints are much sicker, much more complicated.”

Greenfield said increase in volume in all patients and then adding influenza and other respiratory viruses has been challenging.

“Now we’re seeing a very serious wave of influenza, with covid and RSV and parainfluenza virus and a lot of things that are worse than they typically are. It’s challenging times,” Greenfield said.

And they’re having to get creative with accommodating the fuller emergency room.

“When we have surges throughout our system, we start looking for additional capacity. So, we’ll start using areas that we typically don’t use for emergency patients,” Greenfield said. “Like observation units, you can covert those to ED rooms. If it gets busy and the lobby is busy, we’re sometimes pulling people back from the triage area and seeing them in the triage room just to meet the demands out there.”

Hospitals are taking care of patients while triaging an issue many industries are also facing: staffing shortages.

“I think every hospital system in the country is facing nursing shortages and radiology tech shortages and just general staffing issues,” Greenfield said. “So, the patients are sicker and there’s staffing shortages, so it’s hard to move patients through the system.”

St. Thomas isn’t the only hospital seeing overflowing emergency departments.

The Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt says they’ve had a very robust emergency department for some time because of the unprecedented surge in respiratory illnesses.

As for what the average ER wait times are at St. Thomas, hospital officials said they can’t give an accurate estimate because that number is constantly changing.