LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Lee Health is sounding the alarm as close to 100% of its beds have a patient in them. This number is higher than what the health care provider saw during the height of the pandemic.
According to Lee Health's chief officer of hospital-based care, Armando Llechu, the hospitals never had more than 1,500 patients in beds before the pandemic.
"The highest we ever reaching during the pandemic was 1,674 and last week we were at 1,750," said Llechu. "There are only about 80 patients admitted across all of our hospitals that have COVID right now."
Lee Health says it expects the rising number of patients every year between visitors and seasonal residents. However, they say population growth and other factors are causing the influx.
"Just yesterday we had over 1,040 visits to Lee Health emergency departments," said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, the hospital's chief medical officer. "Not all injuries and not all illnesses require a trip to the emergency department."
He says that is also adding to the influx. They're seeing more upper respiratory issues, flu, viruses, RSV and pediatric patients coming in. According to a national statistic shared at Lee Health's press conference on Wednesday, four out of 10 patients could have sought care elsewhere, meaning it wasn't an emergency.
"If you come in for a toothache that you've had for two weeks, you might wait hours," Gonsenhauser said.
Wait times are getting longer because of the influx. Ambulances are also waiting outside until their patients can get a bed.
"Our goal is to get every ambulance unloaded and have the patient in a room receiving care within 30 minutes," Llechu explained.
If more beds are needed, Lee Health says they can double up in certain rooms. The healthcare provider is not concerned about it happening, but are prepared if it's necessary.
"Worst case scenario we would have to transfer patients to other facilities in the area, but I don't anticipate that coming to fruition," Llechu said. "We have the ability to go up to about 1,850 or 1,900. That’s based on our staff and physical capacity."
To lessen the load on the ER, you're encouraged to use different care options such as telehealth, at-home visits or go to your primary physician. They say visiting the emergency department should only be for severe injuries, broken bones and extreme illnesses.
"Customarily people tend to use emergency rooms not only for urgent medical needs, but also when they suffer from minor injuries," Gonsenhauser said.