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UPMC Altoona ER under stress

After a recent visit to the UPMC Altoona Emergency Department, a retired medical professional reported to the Mirror that it appeared to be overwhelmed with patients with symptoms of COVID-19, patients who should have sought help in non-emergency settings and a staffing shortage.

The department was packed, patients were lined up in wheelchairs in the waiting room, patients were in the hallways, family members were relegated to outside and nurses were “frazzled” — although they and the doctors were nice and clearly doing their best, the person said.

Hospital spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell didn’t contest the basic description.

“In recent weeks, we have seen an uptick in the number of patients seeking Emergency Department care,” Sampsell wrote in an email. “Patients are triaged as they arrive, meaning those who have the greatest emergency are treated first.”

Understandably, this can frustrate those forced to wait, Sampsell added.

“Hospitals and emergency departments throughout the country are treating a wave of COVID patients, many of whom are unvaccinated,” Sampsell wrote. “This has placed an incredible burden on our extremely dedicated health care professionals, (who) continue to perform at extraordinary levels.”

Some health care workers have left their fields.

UPMC Altoona is “not immune to staffing issues being felt across health care systems and facilities, as well as almost all other industries nationwide,” Sampsell wrote. “The pandemic has certainly caused some folks who were previously working in health care to switch career paths.”

It would be helpful if people would not come to the Emergency Department when they could more easily and efficiently seek assistance elsewhere. A visit to a primary care doctor is better for “relatively minor illness and injuries,” and may also result in a shorter wait and lower costs, Sampsell wrote.

When same-day care is needed, but a visit to a primary care doctor isn’t feasible, there is also urgent care, which is offered by UPMC.

There’s also “UPMC Anywhere Care,” a telemedicine forum.

There would be fewer COVID patients if people would get vaccinated and take the recommended precautions of masking and distancing, the retired medical professional said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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