NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - As Middle Tennessee continues to see rising COVID-19 cases, some hospitals deal with full emergency rooms, creating longer wait times for ER patients.

It's a place where hospitals have been before during this pandemic, and one middle Tennessee physician sounded a caution alarm.

"And as we got busier and busier in the ER, I noticed more and more patients checking in in the waiting room with cough, cold, flu-like complaints. And we were swabbing them all as quickly as we could in the waiting room. And a lot of their tests were coming back before we could see them," Dr. Katrina Green, an emergency medicine physician that works at two middle Tennessee hospitals, said. "Many of those patients waited in our waiting room for hours to be seen."

Emergency rooms taking extra burden

Green said she doesn't believe they got back one negative COVID test from the patients waiting in the emergency room.

"Which is the concern, patients who have COVID and are sitting in the waiting room, are they wearing a mask are they not wearing a mask? are they coughing? Are they spreading it to other patients who don't have COVID?" Green said. "So, waiting rooms are sort of becoming a place where you could get sick."

To put it into perspective, Green said pre-pandemic, most hospitals would have a goal of seeing people in the emergency room within 30 minutes. During the pandemic, it was her experience for patients to wait for four, five, six hours, or even longer, to be seen in emergency rooms.

Adding to a full emergency room, her hospital received ambulances from other hospitals that were diverted to her location.

"I was noticing they were bringing patients to my hospital on the other side of town, and I was asking them what's going on? Why are you guys over here? and they told me my other hospital that I had worked at was on diversion, which means they are at capacity and can't take any more patients," Green said. "So, whether or not that is the hospital is actually full, or it's just a staffing issue that they're at the capacity where they can staff the beds, I don't have insight into that."

The emergency medicine physicians said the effect isn't just taking a toll on those patients who need medical help.

"At this point, I believe it's an issue at every single hospital in America. It's not just a Nashville problem or a Tennessee problem. I'm seeing reports of nurses being out sick with COVID all across America," Green said. "We have to stay home when we're sick because we don't want to expose our co-workers, our colleagues, and our patients to the disease, to the virus. so that places an extra burden on the staff that's there," she added.

Green said a quick self-assessment could go a long way with unburdening any Emergency Room.

"But I think the best thing that would help decrease our wait times if patients are feeling ill and not sick enough to come to the hospital if you just want a COVID test, the ER is not the place to get a COVID," Green said. "If that's all you need to get a test. There are places all around town which metro health department has set up, clinics where you can get free COVID tests."

Green has also asked people to continue wearing their masks and getting vaccinated, including getting their booster shots. She said most patients admitted to the hospital right now and sick with COVID are those who aren't vaccinated or have not received the booster shot.

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