ERIE COUNTY, NY – The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) and its Division of Emergency Medical Services are monitoring emergency department census reports from hospitals and ambulance traffic in Erie County. Local emergency departments are experiencing high volumes and longer-than-usual wait times. ECDOH is working with Bertrand Chaffee Hospital, Catholic Health, Erie County Medical Center and Kaleida Health to remind residents about best practices for Erie County residents to access emergency department care, and alternatives for non-emergent medical treatment.
“Every hospital uses a triage system to prioritize patients. Using an ambulance to travel to an emergency department does not guarantee that you will be seen sooner,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Patients with non-emergent conditions can face substantial wait times as physicians and nurses treat and stabilize people with more severe injuries and conditions.”
For many people, a primary care physician can provide guidance on whether or not to seek emergency care. Telemedicine or virtual visits can connect a patient with treatment guidance or referrals to care, often more quickly than an emergency department visit. Local urgent care centers are also equipped to handle less acute illnesses and medical conditions.
Erie County residents who have had an exposure to COVID-19, or who are experiencing mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, should not use an emergency department to seek a COVID-19 test. Exceptions are if a person has difficulty breathing, chest pain, or other severe symptoms.
“We do not want to discourage people from seeking medical care,” explained Dr. Burstein. “However, emergency department resources are finite, and are not designed to diagnose chronic conditions or treat minor illness. When patients with minor illnesses that could be treated by a primary care physician or telemedicine visit emergency departments, it delays and diverts medical resources from people with heart attacks or strokes, women in labor, vehicle accident victims, and children with serious illness.”
Some local hospital facilities provide average, estimated wait times on their web sites. However, in general, people with acute illness or severe injuries are evaluated and treated more quickly than people with minor illness or injury.
Examples of Medical Conditions that Require Emergency Care
- Accidental or sudden injury – vehicle accidents, burns, smoke inhalation, deep or large wounds, falls or head trauma
- Bleeding that will not stop
- Breathing problems (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
- Change in mental status (unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing, slurred speech)
- Chest pain
- Coughing up or vomiting blood
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Feeling of self-harm
- Head or spine injury
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision
- Swallowing a poisonous substance
- Severe abdominal pain or pressure
Alternatives to Emergency Care
- Primary care physicians, medical practices, specialty physicians
- Urgent care centers; walk-in clinics
- Virtual medicine/telemedicine through a hospital emergency department, medical practice or health insurance company