Where do we grow from here: Hospital crowding concerns

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LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Jenny Hazelton is a busy mother of three young boys. She lives in Cape Coral, so when she had severe pain in her side October 13, she went right to the Cape Coral Hospital emergency room.

“They told me that I had kidney stones… blocking my ureter.”

And then just sat there.

“But in order to find that out I waited like six hours to get in there. I was in pain the whole time,” Hazelton told WINK News.

Hazelton’s story is similar to dozens of others we’ve heard in recent months. Hours upon hours of waiting to be seen by a doctor at Lee Memorial hospitals.

“There seems like there’s a lot more people here, you know? Especially during this time of year where it’s season,” said Hazelton.

But our investigation discovered it’s not just season. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Lee County’s full time population is estimated to be 679,513, an 8.3% increase from 2010, and is expected to increase by another 13.1% percent by 2020.

“With the growth in population we’re certainly seeing more people come to our health system,” said Scott Kashman, chief administrator at Cape Coral Hospital.

Kashman was recently assigned by Lee Memorial Health System to lead a new task force aimed at looking at ways to improve patient flow at all hospitals. One area of focus: adding more beds. Lee Memorial added 92 beds system-wide in 2014-2015, and plans to add 63 more by 2016. But even with the added beds, the average ER wait time is 2-3 hours, about half as long as Hazelton waited.

“It’s just not a good situation. That’s why we need to resolve it,” Dr. Raymond Kordonowy told WINK News.

Kordonowy is the president of the Independent Physicians Association of Lee County, representing more than 150 local doctors who work directly with Lee Memorial. He says despite the additional beds it’s become increasingly more difficult for doctors to admit their patients to Lee Memorial hospitals.

“They basically instruct me to send them to the emergency room. This is a waste. It’s contributing to the ER backup,” said Kordonowy. “This year I had this problem no matter what month it was.”

Kordonowy says poor planning by Lee Memorial is to blame, not the population boom. He recently urged the health system to fix the problem by delaying elective surgeries in order to free up dozens of beds.

“They believe it’s not an achievable goal. I challenge that notion and I’m willing to debate that in great detail,” said Kordonowy.

In a statement to WINK News, Lee Memorial spokesperson Mary Briggs said:

“We are putting together a task force with Dr. Kordonowy to address his concerns and explore opportunities to expand capacity during the busy seasonal months.”

They’re also looking at how to best use what they have.

“(We’re exploring) how do we leverage our system resources? And so we’re working with EMS and working with each other across the hospitals to see if patients are more appropriate to go to another hospital because there may be a bed available in a shorter time frame,” said Kashman.

For busy moms like Hazelton, shorter would definitely be better.

“It makes me feel better knowing that if I do have an emergency situation like that again that I can go to the ER and get diagnosed and hopefully figure out what’s wrong in a timely manner, so that way I can plan what I need to do for my life,” said Hazelton.

Lee Memorial says you can help cut down on ER wait times by visiting an urgent care center or your primary care physician before resorting to the emergency room. That’s only if you don’t believe your condition is life threatening.

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