© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Q&A: Patients are waiting hours at Cleveland and Akron hospital ERs. Here's why

Hospitals, including Cleveland Clinic, report busy emergency rooms
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Northeast Ohio hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, report emergency rooms are very busy because of several factors, including staff shortages.

Northeast Ohio residents are finding that area hospitals are slammed and they are facing long wait times when seeking care. This is a problem that started during the pandemic and is apparently getting worse as hospital resources are being stressed.

Ideastream Public Media health reporter Taylor Wizner spoke with Morning Edition host Amy Eddings about why the ERs are so crowded.

EDDINGS: So what are people saying they're experiencing when they go to the ER?

WIZNER: In Northeast Ohio I've recently heard about really long wait times, people coming in over the weekend and waiting hours upon hours just to be seen by a doctor.

One local woman I spoke to, Toya, took her 68-year-old mother to an ER in Cleveland a few weeks ago and said the experience was nightmarish. And Amy, I should note I'm using only her first name because she's concerned about her mother's ongoing relationship with her healthcare provider if they use their full names. So Toya and her mother waited in the hallway for about nine hours before they saw a doctor.


WIZNER: Yeah. And in that time, she says her mother was with eight to 10 other patients, also sitting in the hallway in hospital beds, just waiting to get a room.

TOYA: And I guess for me, what was most difficult was the idea that there was no dignity.

WIZNER: Toya says she had to take her mother to the bathroom, that her mother had to administer her own pain medication and they also overheard nurses sharing health information about other patients.

Toya took a selfie of her and her mother after eight hours of waiting to be seen by a doctor in a Cleveland hospital ER.
Courtesy of Toya
Toya took a selfie of her and her mother after eight hours of waiting to be seen by a doctor in a Cleveland hospital ER.

EDDINGS: So what do area hospital officials have to say about this?

WIZNER: I reached out to all the local hospital systems Cleveland Clinic, UH, MetroHealth, Summa Health in Akron, and most wouldn't tell me how long their wait times are. Cleveland Clinic officials did say their ER wait times are longer than usual. Officials at The Center for Health Affairs, a regional hospital advocacy association, say they are hearing ERs are really busy and wait times can fluctuate based on the day or the time of year.

But overall, nationally, two studies out last week, Monthly Rates of Patients Who Left Before Accessing Care in US Emergency Departments, 2017-2021 and Hospital Occupancy and Emergency Department Boarding During the COVID-19 Pandemic, both published in JAMA Open Network, suggest that wait times in the ER are getting dangerously longer. What Toya's mother went through waiting in the hallway for a room to open is called emergency department boarding. According to the Joint Commission, an organization that accredits hospitals, boarding is a patient safety risk and it shouldn't exceed more than four hours. That's because there can be medical errors, it compromises patient privacy and increased mortality.

EDDINGS: I know that when you go to the ER, you're going to wait a long time, but nine hours. What is causing the long waits at some of these hospitals?

WIZNER: So there's a combination of factors which can vary depending on the community. Some hospitals right now are dealing with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). That's a respiratory illness that's similar to a cold and it can lead in some cases to serious illnesses like pneumonia.

And there also just happens to be a lot of patients in hospitals right now. When inpatient beds are full that impacts the ER because ER patients can't be admitted to the hospital. As of late October, the Ohio Department of Health is reporting average ICU bed occupancy is at nearly 80%.

I talked with the City of Bedford's Fire Chief Dave Nagy. He says in his 27 years of running EMS, he's never seen ERs backed up as they are now. It used to take his team about five to seven minutes to transfer patient care once they get to the hospital. Now, he says it can take up to 30 or 45 minutes.

DAVE NAGY: A lot of facilities have resorted to, depending on the severity of the patient, is they'll get off our cot and be walked out to the waiting room and be put in with the general population in the waiting room just because there's no beds to take them.

WIZNER: Nagy blames a recent hospital closures for clogging up already full ERs.

EDDINGS: Do we expect this to change anytime soon?

WIZNER: We've heard about this national issue, about staffing shortages that are affecting our local hospitals as well, particularly nurses. The average age of nurses is 52 years old and some are retiring early. And the pandemic really led to a lot of burnout where others have even changed careers. And in Ohio, the American Hospital Association just released its Midwest report, which shows job postings growing throughout last year. So what it looks like is this might be the new normal for at least a while.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.