Trust & Verify: Why are ER wait times so long at Lee Health?

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Karen and Terry Stark (CREDIT: WINK News)

Waiting, waiting and still waiting. It is a problem across the country. Emergency departments buckling under pressure.

Here at home, Lee Health is well aware of the issue. They’ve had it for years as WINK reported back in 2015.

Terry Stark knows all about waiting. He brought his wife Karen to HealthPark Medical Center on a recent Monday morning when she woke up in pain.

“They took her in, they ran some tests, determined that she had a tumor on her brain. The problem was during all this time, she was in a bed in a hallway,” Stark said.

After 10 hours of waiting in the hallway, word arrived a surgeon at Lee Memorial near downtown Fort Myers could operate.

“They said there’s a room available here. The transport brought her here. By the time they got her here, there was no room available,” Stark said.

That was Monday, Feb. 7. They waited in the hallway again for two days. Starks said his wife finally got into a room Wednesday night, 56 hours after first arriving at HealthPark’s emergency room.

“We’ve been married for 31 years, I wasn’t leaving her in the hallway anywhere. I’m just there, I’m just there holding her hand literally. I have no value because I can’t ease the pain. I can’t help her. I can’t, I can’t even tell her. This is what’s gonna happen next because Lisa, I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. So is this the best we can do during this time? And if it wasn’t Covid related, what is causing this and how are you going to fix it?” asked Stark.

That seems to be the case for anyone heading to hospital emergency departments. It is a situation Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci readily acknowledges.

“Unfortunately, things are continuing to get worse as it relates to our capacity,” Antonucci said at a press conference on Feb. 3.

That is very similar to what Lee Health told WINK News seven years ago.

Back in 2015, Lee Health attributed the long wait times to population growth.

At that time, 679,413 people lived full-time in Lee County. Now in 2022, the population has swelled to approximately 818,898. Projections say we could reach one million full-time residents by 2030.

“Definitely the increase in growth in population, we’ve seen a lot more people we think, got to the best of our ability, some of them are staying more permanently less seasonal traffic,” said Scott Nygaard, chief operating officer at Lee Health.

In 2015, Lee Health came up with a Global Patient Station (GPS) which is a 24/7 control center monitoring capacity at all four hospitals and moving patients where they have room.

It deployed in 2019 and Lee Health says it has made a difference but it will not solve the capacity issues.

“Once the flow stops inside the walls of the hospital, we can’t get people discharged, you know, everybody’s coming to the emergency room, if they need to be admitted, and we don’t have a bed available immediately, then it kind of creates a bottleneck at the front door,” Nygaard said. “The problem is just trying to triage people try to get to the sickest people first, which creates waits and delays for those who might not be quite as sick. That leads to some dissatisfaction.”

Adding to that bottleneck, community-wide many medical facilities are dealing with the same situation.

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