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Emergency rooms are crowded nationally and in Rochester

An entrance to the UR Medical Center
Dread Pirate Westley, CC BY-SA 3.0
The School of Medicine and Dentistry at UR Medical Center

Overcrowding at emergency rooms and urgent care facilities has hit a crisis locally and nationwide.

In a letter drafted to President Joe Biden, health care workers across the nation described health care conditions as “breaking beyond repair” and “detrimental.” The letter, from more than 30 health care systems and associations, details a lack of inpatient beds due to the backup of nursing home patients unable to transition to long-term care facilities, staffing shortages, and the circulation of different viruses causing severe illness for the most vulnerable.

"What we're facing is vastly different than anything we have ever faced in American health care,” said Dr. Michael Kamali, University of Rochesters Medical Center's chair of emergency medicine. “The system is functioning and working. It's just not working as well as we'd like it to be.”

Although UR Medicine did not contribute to the letter, Kamali said they’re experiencing the same problems.

“We love taking care of patients and serving our community,” he said. “But when it comes to the point where we're having difficulty doing that, because of how crowded things are on many levels, then we get very concerned.”

Kamali said the emergency department and urgent care centers average well over 300 patients a day. He said the vast majority are receiving excellent care once they’re seen, but the wait times are becoming a bigger issue.

“It might not be as fast as we want it to be, it might not be as perfect as we want it to be, but those people are getting great health care,” Kamali said.

To help relieve some of the burden on emergency care services, URMC has opened a new urgent care location in Webster, and has also launched Get Care Now to help residents self-assess their condition and choose the level of care necessary. The website also provides estimated wait times at the 13 urgent care locations in the county and region.

“We're functioning, but there's some cracks in the system,” Kamali said. “Let’s repair those.”

Officials are pleading for residents to do their part by getting the flu shot and the COVID-19 bivalent booster if eligible, avoiding people who are sick, practicing good hygiene, and seeking care early to prevent serious illness.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.