BUFFALO, N.Y. — It is day 11 of the CWA strike at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital, and while negotiations continue at the picket line, other hospitals and emergency rooms are picking up the slack, caring for a higher-than-normal volume of patients.
Monday, Erie County Medical Center experienced its highest in-patient census ever. ECMC Associate Medical Director Dr. Samuel Cloud said the 563 people currently receiving in-patient care at the hospital is the highest ‘in living memory.’
“The Mercy strike is definitely having an impact on all the hospitals, it’s one of the three bigger hospitals in Western New York along with Buffalo General Medical Center and ECMC. So, when you take one of the three large hospitals offline there is inevitably going to be downstream effects to the other hospital systems,” said Dr.Cloud.
For some perspective, Dr.Cloud explained pre-pandemic, efforts would be made to mitigate in-patient numbers if they were approaching 500 patients.
While the Mercy strike is a large factor in the increase, Dr.Cloud said the current situation is also compounded by other factors.
“Covid is causing an increased in-patient census, in addition to covid patients having longer than normal lengths of stay in the hospital. The nursing homes are having a hard time attracting employees, so they are not taking patients to the degree that they were before covid and before the employment crunch that accompanied covid. All these things are coming together to mean a higher-than-average in-patient census and today it was much higher than average,” he said.
Whenever ECMC has a census above 90%, Dr.Cloud said the staff works to get patients home, to rehab facilities or nursing homes.
Recently, the hospital has implemented mitigation strategies such as limiting in-patient elective surgeries to create more beds, bringing back retired staff and offering overtime to current employees.
Dr.Cloud compared the current surge in patients to what ECMC saw between January and March when the hospital had an influx of covid patients in addition to general medical admissions. Currently, the medical center is treating 26 covid patients.
When the strike concludes Dr.Cloud anticipates in-patient census numbers to drop back down to 500 or below. But until then, “it’s one foot in front of the other, take it day by day,” he said.
It is not only ECMC, Kaleida Health is also feeling the strain. Kaleida Health Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Office Mike Hughes told 2 On Your Side, emergency rooms are extremely busy but said they are handling the extra load right now. Hughes said the strike is not only impacting the emergency rooms but also the operating rooms.
On Thursday, the Erie County Department of Health announced local emergency departments are experiencing high volumes and longer-than-usual wait times. Erie County Department of Health Commissioner Dr.Gale Burstein reminded people to only go to the emergency room for emergent care.