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Hospital staff urge community to think smart before heading to the ER as COVID hospitalizations surge

The increased number of EMS calls has led to additional wait times for ambulances waiting to transfer patients to hospitals.

TAMPA, Fla — As sirens blare, nurses and doctors race to treat patients as the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 continues to rise.

"The balance of running an emergency department is making sure you're taking care of the people who are at most risk for having a bad outcome," Dr. Timothy Regan, the Chief Medical Officer of Lakeland Regional Health said.

LRH's ER is more active than usual, and the majority of the patients coming in are there for COVID-19.

"I worked in the ER yesterday and we're seeing a lot of people who are scared and who are sick and didn't think that they would get sick," Regan said.

Nearly 400 of their patients are positive with COVID-19. That's more than double their highest patient volume of 180 from January of this year. The influx is also making wait times longer.

RELATED: Polk fire chief requests only to call 911 with 'serious emergencies'

"We typically have a pretty efficient emergency department we have seen longer waits than what we're used to, but I think that's been the same across the board," Regan said.

Polk County Fire Rescue's Chief Robert Weech asked that 911 calls be limited to the most serious of emergencies on Wednesday, saying the department has averaged about 340 calls a day, up to about 400, in recent weeks.

The increased number of calls has led to additional wait times for ambulances waiting to transfer patients to hospitals. It has also meant a delay in response times to certain parts of the county. 

"I've called the head to emergency rooms to see, you know, where do we stand if we have to send a patient to you and a lot of them are telling us do not we are we have ambulances out the bay, we are diverting to other hospitals farther away," In-home Care Nurse Rebecca Guerin said.

She says not everyone in the ER has an emergency, but many are going out of panic.

"They get a cough congested and it could just be a normal cold, but they're wanting that confirmation and it's not COVID," Guerin said.

Meanwhile, the Florida Hospital Association expects 3 out 4 Florida hospitals to expect critical staff shortages in the next 7 days.

"What everyone needs to clearly understand is you don't staff hospitals in anticipation of a surge or a prolonged surge. The volume of overall patients is at a historic high," Mary Mayhew, the President of the association said.

You can help lessen the numbers in the ER. Contact your doctor first is start feeling COVID-19 or get tested. We have a list of sites in our area here.

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