Pennsylvanians in need of care may experience longer than usual wait times as COVID-19 continues to put stress on the nation’s healthcare system, two Pennsylvania health care facilities confirmed this week.
The increased wait times are, in part, a result of increased COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth, which contributed to the deaths of 654 people in the past seven days, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“Penn State Health is experiencing high patient volumes across the health system — in emergency departments, in our physician offices and at our inpatient facilities — in part because of a surge of COVID patients, which is reflective of a national trend,” Penn State Health spokesperson Barbara Schindo told the Capital-Star.
Penn State Health confirmed 166 adult patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of those, 107 adult patients were not fully vaccinated. Thirty of those patients listed as not fully vaccinated were in hospital intensive care units and 14 were on a ventilator as of Dec. 7.
“As the demand for health care is high, some appointments or procedures may be affected,” Schindo said. “We have processes in place to reschedule services as appropriate and will reach out to any patients as necessary.”
Similarly, UPMC said on Dec. 6 that it is treating 706 inpatients who are positive for COVID-19 across its system. Of those patients, 148 are in UPMC hospitals in central Pennsylvania, according to a UPMC spokesperson.
“None of our facilities are operating at a level that’s not near capacity,” UPMC spokesperson Malini Mattler told the Capital-Star.
Despite the high caseload, Mattler said UPMC facilities are open, but may have longer wait times.
“Caring for the increased number of patients is a challenge,” Mattler said. “But we are up to the challenge.”
Mattler added that UPMC emergency departments are using a “triage process to help prioritize patients for care when immediate space is available.”
Last week, the York Daily Record reported that WellSpan York would delay non-emergency care as it dealt with increased COVID-19 patients following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Likewise, Mount Nittany Medical Center — the only hospital in Centre County — resumed normal emergency operations last Friday, after an influx of COVID-19 patients forced the facility to turn away ambulances Thursday night.
To combat the increased number of patients, UPMC is urging people to get vaccinated, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“Our plea during this holiday season is for everyone eligible for COVID-19 and flu vaccines to make the choice to get them,” Mattler told the Capital-Star. “That, plus masking when indoors or in crowds with those not in your immediate family, are the best protection from COVID-19 and flu. If you get sick, stay home and get tested – that will allow us to better help you.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 6,278 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 6.
On Dec. 7, the department reported that 4,298 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of those, 907 are in intensive care units, according to state data.
Cassie Miller is an associate editor at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.