Nurse shortage one of many contributing factors to long ER wait times in DC area

Nurse shortages have impacted hospitals across the U.S., even prior to COVID-19, and many medical systems within the D.C region are certainly not immune to that reality.

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FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan spoke with several health care professionals who aren’t denying that emergency rooms are busier even before the pandemic hit, but it’s not just because of staff shortage. 

"Patient volumes across the region have remained high and we continue to see increased acuity of cases," explained John McInerney, manager of strategic communications and public relations 
with Suburban Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"Parameters for diverting ambulances are set by the state of Maryland/District of Columbia. Even if ambulances are being diverted, patients who arrive by car or other means are never turned away. All patients are triaged and treated in order of the severity of their condition."

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As far as nurses are concerned, Tina Bergeron Sheesley, director of public relations and marketing with Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center

said that the hospital system responds to changes in volume using staffing strategies such as bringing in an agency or part-time nurses, and reassigning nurses to the busiest units. 

"Adventist HealthCare also is using several innovative strategies to recruit new nurses to our system, such as a nurse residency program for recent graduates," said Sheesly.

"As the pandemic is waning I think people are taking time off and not as available for things like traveler assignments that hospitals use to augment their staff," explained Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. "I would say that nursing staff is a critical component and there are challenges in some places."

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Many medical facilities in the region also use what’s referred to as the County Hospital Alert Tracking System (CHATS).

Sheesly explained that, the definition of hospital diversion in Maryland is important to this discussion. The CHATS red alert status is not related to staffing. Red-alert status indicates a hospital may not have the appropriate care space available for a high-priority patient, specifically an ECG-monitored bed on a critical-care unit or a telemetry bed.

Yellow diversion indicates an emergency department is temporarily overwhelmed with critical cases such that patients who are sick but less critical or those who are relatively stable may not be managed safely. Yellow diversion is most often related to a high volume of patients waiting to see a physician in any given location, not a nursing shortage.

She said that high priority patients are always taken to the nearest hospital.

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"With respect to diversion status it can happen for any number of reasons often times when it is triggered it just means that local EMS dispatchers are told to re-route patients to the nearest emergency departments," explained Julian Walker, Vice President of communications for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

"That could be for bed occupancy or it could be for another situation like a water main burst or a fire near by at the entrance of an emergency department and that’s impeding or limiting access."

Walker also said, he inquired with the emergency management system in Northern Virginia and as of right now, there are no hospitals that are on diversion status.