The “e” in “ER” means “emergency” for a reason

Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro

Managing Editor

Image via Pixabay/Pexels

Winter is just about here, meaning that everyone’s favorite season is upon us. That's right: Cold and flu season. The holidays are also around the corner. Spending time with family and friends that we do not see often can add to the culture of transmission. This time of year can be very dangerous, especially for young children and people who are immunocompromised.


In a post-Covid world, Rhode Island’s hospitals are still struggling. There are staffing shortages, supply shortages and equipment that is just not available anymore. People of all ages and immunities are getting sicker and in some cases, as with “long” COVID, are staying sicker longer. This leads to more and longer hospitalizations and results in bed shortages.


Emergency departments, as well as urgent care facilities, are packed. Patients are often left waiting for hours on end, with seemingly no end in sight. Those who are admitted are frequently “stuck” in the emergency department waiting for a room to become available somewhere in the rest of the hospital. This backlog is extremely dangerous for both patients and staff, and is witnessed in every aspect of care.


Staffing issues are such a detrimental problem that on Nov. 10, a new state regulation was enacted allowing for EMTs to staff emergency departments so long as they don’t leave ambulance services short staffed. The “Mobile Response and Stabilization Service Project” was also launched within the last week. This project allows for the state to assess and direct patients with behavioral health issues to the appropriate assistance they need. Rhode Island is contracting with Family Service of Rhode Island and Tides Family Services for this project.


Pre-COVID, it was common to go to the emergency department for any issue, minor or major. The emergency department is also the go-to place when things happen in the middle of the night. However, this is no longer the case. Calling an ambulance no longer gives you the priority boost it once did, as nurses have had to carefully and strictly triage everyone.


The Rhode Island Department of Health, the hospital systems and hospital staff are strongly encouraging Rhode Islanders to make use of urgent care facilities, local clinics and primary physicians for non-emergencies. Patients are being asked to first, call their doctor. If the doctor thinks it’s necessary, they will tell you to go to the emergency department.


Hospital staff are suffering physically, mentally and spiritually in ways more severe than before. We can take some of the burden off of them by using the resources available to us responsibly.


So, what constitutes an emergency? The same issues you would be likely to call an ambulance for. These include, but are not limited to, shortness of breath, chest pain, signs of stroke, heavy bleeding, deep wounds/burns, dramatic change in skin color, such as skin turning blue or gray, broken bones with loss of movement and in infants: a dry mouth, no tears and no wet diapers during an 18-hour time period.


Please be smart and use discretion when considering seeking care at an emergency department. Rhode Island has wonderful hospitals and equally as wonderful medical staff. Please be responsible when seeking care, and if you need any form of medical help, do seek help. All things considered, it is better to have gone through the wait and have a small health issue than to have ignored the problem and end up with a larger health issue.


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