R.I. leaders address staffing concerns and overcrowding in emergency rooms

PROVIDENCE – As hospitals continue to grapple with a spike in respiratory viruses and overcrowded emergency rooms, state health officials and hospital leaders are urging Rhode Islanders to only go to emergency departments if in need of emergency care.

Many health issues, such as back pain, cuts, sore throats and others, do not require a visit to the emergency department and can be treated by a primary care provider, at an urgent care or at a health center, said state leaders at a recent press event.

It is particularly important to avoid emergency rooms if dealing with non-urgent issues in light of the recent overcrowding seen at hospital emergency services, which is causing hourslong wait times for patients in need of urgent assistance.

“Similar to last fall and winter, we are seeing longer waits at local emergency rooms. While COVID-19 and influenza are circulating again, there are also additional challenges at hospitals throughout the country this year due to RSV [respiratory syncytial virus], behavioral health needs and health care worker shortages,” said Ana Novais, acting secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health & Human Services. “There are several steps the state is taking, in partnership with our local hospitals and providers, to ease the strain on our health care system, but these issues are complex and require all of us to seek care in the most appropriate setting.”

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The state is taking steps to support hospitals and address the staffing shortage, including implementing a regulation that will temporarily allow emergency medical services personnel to work under the supervision of an on-site health care provider in a hospital or other licensed health care facility in Rhode Island.

“Emergency departments are perfect for emergency situations. If someone is experiencing a serious health issue, they should absolutely call 911 or go to an emergency department right away,” said Interim Director of Health Dr. Utpala Bandy. “However, emergency departments treat patients with the most serious health issues first, which means that people with less-severe conditions will experience long waits.”

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com