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Sick Start To New Year Leaves Long ER Wait Times

SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) –

Holyoke Medical Center saw their first flu case of the year in October, and knew it’d be a long winter.

“That’s a lot sooner than usual so they predicted an earlier onset of flu and earlier peak of the flu and so that seems to be coming to fruition,” Holyoke Hospital Vice President of Patient Services James Keefe said.

Keefe reports that the ER has been busier than normal around the clock, and they aren’t alone. Baystate Medical Center says between December of 2011 and December 2012, they treated 32% more pediatric patients and 21% more extremely ill patients. 16% more patients who came to the ER had to be admitted. Dr. Glenn Alli says that means wait times are inevitable.

“They are appropriately going to prioritize people with life threatening and immediate, immediately serious, or potentially serious illness to be seen, evaluated, and managed first so that will often result in some degree of wait for people who have minor problems,” Dr. Alli said.

Keefe says there is a shortage in primary care doctors across the region, and some won’t accept public insurances like Medicare or Medicaid. Holyoke Hospital’s busiest day of the week year round is Monday, when it’s often tough to get a doctor’s appointment.

“We certainly are seeing the types of illnesses that you would often see in a doctor’s office in our Emergency Department, and of course that increases during the flu season,” Keefe said.

But assuming you have a doctor, how do you know if you should go to an ER or not?

“It really depends on the context,” Dr. Alli said. “That’s where the discussion with the primary care doctor really comes in.”

Dr. Alli says almost all doctors have on call numbers, even when it is off hours. He says calling it and talking out your symptoms can save you trip to the ER, and just maybe cut down on wait times.

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