7 hospitals in northern & central NY had to divert patients over the weekend

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:33 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Over the weekend, 3 north country hospitals were on diversion. That means ambulance squads are told to take the patient to another hospital unless it’s a dire situation. Taking patients to Syracuse wasn’t an option either because we’re told 4 hospitals in Syracuse were also on diversion.

We heard about the problems through local ambulance squads, which are sometimes waiting for hours with a patient.

“You may be at a hospital for two hours. We had a crew that had a two-hour wait here in the city Saturday night,” said Scott Lennox.

It’s an issue that Lennox and his crews at Town of Watertown Ambulance are periodically dealing with. Lennox says the pandemic has caused call volumes to increase, leading to transporting more patients.

“I think people have waited home because they didn’t want to go to the hospital. Now they’re sicker, so when they do go to the hospital, they are getting admitted for longer periods of time,” said Lennox.

The higher volumes are also causing hospitals across the region to, once in a while, call for a medical diversion - requesting ambulance squads take patients to other hospitals where wait times for care may be shorter.

Over the weekend, 4 hospitals in the Syracuse area and 3 north country hospitals, Samaritan Medical Center, Carthage Area Hospital and Lewis County Health System were all on diversion at the same time.

That made it tough for emergency medical service crews.

“When they are all on diversion, it almost reverts back to all of the hospitals under normal status. It just increases our wait times,” said Bruce Wright, Guilfoyle Ambulance.

Representatives from Samaritan Medical Center say this weekend’s diversion was because the hospital was busy and didn’t have an open bed. The hospital’s emergency room is back to patient volumes seen before the pandemic - around 120 to 140 people a day. And COVID complicates things.

“Letting them know that you cannot promptly take in new patients, but you would never ever refuse a patient, it’s just a matter of where and how long that may take,” said Leslie DiStefano, SMC spokesperson.

A spokesperson for Carthage says the hospital reviews going on diversion on an ongoing basis but only does so after collaborating with several departments before making that critical call.

At Lewis County Health System, officials say staffing challenges, bed availability and a significant increase in COVID cases caused them to go on diversion status.

All three are no longer on diversion at this time

Why are hospitals so busy? Sometimes it’s because people go to the ER to get a COVID test, when officials say that’s not the best place to go and that can bog down the system.

Jefferson County EMS Director Paul Barter says a conversation is in the works for early next week between EMS providers and county leaders to brainstorm a plan to work through what used to be a rare occurrence, a hospital diversion.

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