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Local hospitals are straining to handle increased hospital admissions and are seeing longer than usual wait times for emergency room visits, a result of the surge in COVID-19 cases and other factors.

Throughout the region, hospitals are dealing with a sizable increase in hospitalizations, staffing shortages, and an increase in the volume of people who are visiting emergency rooms.

“There’s no room at the inn,” said Dr. Thomas Corkery, Chief Medical Officer at Allegheny Health System Canonsburg Hospital. “There are no critical care beds throughout the AHN system or other systems, like UPMC. We open up one or two, they get filled right away. We don’t have beds, and we don’t have nurses for the beds. Some ICU patients are being cared for in the ER, and it taxes the ER and their capacity. And it’s a problem everywhere, not just our health system.”

Earlier this week, UPMC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Yealy said the hospital system has been running “near capacity” for weeks.

Penn Highlands Mon Valley Hospital spokesperson Andrew Bilinsky said patients are dealing with extended wait times in the ER, “due to an increase in ER patients and extended in-patient stays due to COVID-19.”

Mon Valley Hospital doctors are encouraging people with less severe problems, such as sprains, to avoid emergency rooms and call their primary care physicians.

Washington Health System, which is seeing near-record COVID-19 admissions, reported it also is experiencing a heavy demand for services in the emergency departments at Washington Hospital and WHS Greene, and longer than normal wait times in those EDs.

“We cannot predict expected future wait times or delays, but they are definitely much longer than usual, right now,” WHS spokesperson Stephanie Wagoner said in a statement.

AHN, along with other hospitals, has suspended some elective surgeries as a result of bed and staffing issues.

“It’s certainly stressful for all involved, for the staff, for patients. It’s just so busy, and people are so sick, and they’re not in here just for COVID,” said Corkery. “But for COVID patients, the length of stay is much longer, and more patients come in and you don’t have room.”

Corkery is concerned about an increase in COVID cases over Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and potential influenza cases.

“If the flu hits on top of this, it’s hard to see where that’s going to go,” he said.

Corkery said about 98% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in AHN hospitals are unvaccinated, and the demographics are younger than COVID-19 patients the system saw last year. He recently discharged a 24-year-old patient who had been on a respirator, “and we weren’t seeing that when we got the initial surge last November and December.”

Corkery strongly encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“I still stress that the risk of the vaccine is far, far less than the risk of disease and strongly encourage people to get vaccinated. It’s how we’re going to end this and how we’re going to prevent more people from getting it and dying from it.”

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