An overwhelming summer for ERs

Healthcare professionals in emergency departments are feeling the effects of understaffing and high-acuity patients, reports The Oregonian

Mary Tanski, MD, clinical director of Oregon Health & Science University's department of emergency medicine, said the number of acutely ill patients presenting at the ED is at the highest she's seen in her eight years with the Portland, Ore.-based level 1 trauma center. Some patients deferred care throughout the pandemic. 

"When we see sicker patients, that's a stress," she told The Oregonian. "Nurses were already tired. They've been at the front lines for a year. It's to the point that we have seen some of our nursing colleagues leave the profession."

Data aligns with Dr. Tanski's anecdotal account. OHSU Hospital recorded about 150 hours per month in diversion status in April and May 2020, meaning ambulances were turned away from the ER to another hospital due to high patient volume or staffing constraints. One year later, the emergency department operated under diversion status 450 and 500 hours per month, according to the report. 

As patients wait hours in EDs to be seen, frustration or anger is sometimes channeled toward nurses and other front-line staff, prompting concerns about their safety. OHSU will install a metal detector in its ED in July. Staff found weapons on patients or visitors in the ED twice in recent months. 

OHSU is one of many hospitals in the Northwest with need for staff. The report also mentions Kaiser Permanente, Providence and Legacy Health Systems. 

"Kaiser has a great patient care model," ER nurse Kim Stewart told The Oregonian. "But without the people there to do it right, it doesn't work. I don't even want more money or more benefits. I just want staff."

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