OLEAN, N.Y — Like most hospitals across New York and Pennsylvania, Olean General Hospital and Bradford (Pa.) Regional Medical are experiencing the multifactorial impact of staffing issues, increased emergency department wait times, another wave of COVID-19, patient transfer challenges, and the nursing strike at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.
“In recent weeks, staffing at nearly every hospital in our region in New York and Pennsylvania has been a major challenge. All hospitals are experiencing staffing issues at multiple levels. Elective and inpatient surgeries in some Buffalo hospitals have been suspended, emergency departments everywhere are seeing longer wait times to see patients and that creates issues in getting patients to rooms,” said Mary LaRowe, interim president and CEO of Upper Allegheny Health System.
“We have bed capacity but staffing is a major concern as the entire nation is experiencing nursing shortages,” said Gail Bagazzoli, chief nursing officer at OGH. “With nearly every hospital and emergency department in the region overly busy, nurses and other staff are in short supply and transferring patients to and from other hospitals is a problem. The optimum functioning of health care regionally is dependent on individual hospitals and hospital systems being able to staff their facilities, care for patients in a timely manner, and transfer patients to and from their facilities. This is being interrupted,” she said.
“The nursing strike at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo is adding to the problem,” Bagazzoli said. “Patients are going to other already busy hospital emergency departments, further exacerbating the waiting issue with a ripple effect from Buffalo, south and west all the way into Pennsylvania. In addition, RNs at area hospitals are being lured away as highly paid temporary staff by the travel agency temporarily staffing Mercy Hospital,” Bagazzoli said. “Travel nurses salaries have soared in recent weeks.”
“There is no one single factor triggering this perfect storm,” LaRowe said. “In addition to staffing challenges, we are seeing another wave of COVID in our hospitals. Positivity rates in Western New York, including Cattaraugus County, and in Northwest Pennsylvania, including McKean County are much too high and vaccination rates are way too low. The number of COVID patients at OGH and BRMC has risen steadily over the past few weeks and has reached levels not seen since the early days of the pandemic.”
Jill Owens, MD, interim chief medical officer for Upper Allegheny Health System, said the community has become complacent when it comes to COVID vaccinations, precautions, testing and gatherings. “People need to understand that the pandemic will not go away and will kill more people unless the vaccination numbers go up, and people take the precautions recommended by the CDC. Things will not get better unless people change their thinking and their behavior.
“We are advising people that both Olean and Bradford emergency departments are open and accepting patients, but wait times will be longer. If you are not feeling well, you should call your primary care physician,” Owens said. “Both OGH and BRMC have telehealth programs in their emergency departments where patients can be seen virtually as do many primary care offices. If patients are experiencing serious illness or injury, they should call 911 or proceed to their nearest emergency department and in non-urgent or non-emergent cases, seek help from their primary care providers.”
“We thank the community, our patients and our staff for their understanding, patience and support during this challenging time,” LaRowe said.