BJC hospital staff ‘overwhelmed’ as COVID patients flood ER

Missouri

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis-area emergency rooms are busy and reaching a breaking point amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. This comes as wait times stretch for hours and procedures are being delayed for weeks.

“It’s a bit overwhelming and a pressure cooker for the staff,” said Barnes-Jewish emergency care physician Dr. Robert Poirier. 

Poirier said ER rooms now have limited resources and beds, forcing doctors to pick and choose who to treat faster.

“If you’re very sick, you’re going to get seen and go back to our room almost right away. If you’re kind of moderate, we will try to get things started,” Poirier said. “It may be getting some blood work and things, but I could take two to four to six hours.”

Poirier also explains that staff members are being stretched thin, treating up to 300 patients a day and working extra shifts.

“Some staff are going out sick due to some family members. Therefore, those of us who are not sick this week have to work extra and fill in. So, we’ve been doing that for several weeks,” Poirier added. 

Starting Wednesday, all hospitals under BJC Healthcare are postponed elective procedures. SSM Health was also postponing procedures on a case-by-case basis. The hospitals said “elective procedures” are defined as procedures that can be pushed back for at least four weeks and are not emergencies. 

“It’s been a difficult road,” said Kathy Paar, whose husband was supposed to get a colonoscopy Wednesday.

 She said the procedure was canceled. It would have made him eligible to get a liver transplant.

“He won’t be able to survive without a transplant,” Paar said. “Just so much more uncertainty because the longer we wait to get him on the list, the more complications he can encounter.”

Poirier said if a patient needs to be tested for COVID-19 or has mild symptoms, he urges those people to not go to the emergency room. Instead, call your local doctor. 

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