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Hospital leaders say staffing crisis has arrived: Who will be treated at the emergency room?

Leaders at Upstate University Hospital are sounding the alarm as the emergency room remains short staffed. “The hospitals are in the middle of the worst crisis I’ve seen because of the lack of staffing,” said Dr. William Paolo, Interim Chair and Residency Program Director of Emergency Medicine.

He recently spoke with CNYCentral, describing the grim outlook facing healthcare facilities across the state days after the COVID-19 vaccine mandate went into effect. Many hospitals were already facing staff shortages, but the mandate pushed many over the edge.

Long wait times will continue to grow and the existing nurse shortage will get worse, experts like Paolo warned. Another problem? Turnover from retiring professionals. “All of those things combine to make the perfect storm of the crisis we’re in now,” he added.

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The state and country is also in the midst of a public health crisis. This has made things worse for hospitals like Upstate. “Emergency medicine and emergency departments are kind of the canary in the public health coal mine. When things start happening to the system, you’re going to see them most acutely in the emergency department,” Dr. Paolo continued. “What you’re seeing now is there are not enough staff members to open up the normal beds a hospital would have.”

Hospitals like Upstate are prioritizing the sickest patients first, at which point others are left to deal with longer waits.

Other hospitals in New York have said that they may need to pause elective procedures at different times this winter due to the mandate, which made staffing shortages worse. Hospital systems and administrators reported dozens of resignations as the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine approached.

Some systems like Thompson Health in Canandaigua have hundreds of openings.