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Head of Baptist Health's emergency rooms says they're opening 'nooks and crannies' to treat patients in ERs

Hospitals and emergency centers have reached a critical point, however, are not at maximum capacity, a representative for Baptist clarified on Thursday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Baptist is apologizing after it erroneously published on social media that hospitals and emergency rooms were at maximum capacity due to the surge in COVID-19 cases here on the First Coast.

The original post on social media about being at maximum capacity was deleted by Baptist. 

It said hospitals and emergency centers have reached a "critical point" due to the "unvaccinated COVID-19 crisis in our community." However, hospitals are not at maximum capacity, a representative for Baptist later clarified on Thursday.

"We sincerely apologize for the error in our recent social media post regarding our Emergency Room capacity. Our intention was to convey that our Emergency Rooms are extremely busy and you may experience longer than normal wait times," said Baptist in a statement.

RELATED: Update: Rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and vaccine numbers on the First Coast

A Baptist spokesperson said if you are experiencing symptoms related to a heart attack, stroke, or severe respiratory issues, call 911 or get to an ER as soon as possible. You will be seen right away.

However, if you are experiencing a non-life-threatening health issue, Baptist said you should contact your primary care physician's office, or seek urgent care in person or online via telehealth.

"We want to take good care of everyone," Darin Roark, Baptist's Executive Oversite over all emergency rooms, said. "It’s challenging at times just due to the increase in volume," he said.

“If your symptoms are not as severe, you will have an extended wait for which we deeply apologize," Roark said.

Roark told First Coast News that every “nook and cranny” of emergency rooms are being utilized, including break rooms, conference rooms and more.

"We're doing our absolute best. We're bringing in additional staff, additional physicians, opening up nooks and crannies, if you will, in the emergency rooms to find places to see patients," he said. "We’re treating patients in conference rooms literally doing everything we can to try to accommodate that volume and we just really ask for the community’s patience."

"This pandemic definitely affects the younger patients and they are sicker, much sicker, and much younger and that taxes us as health care providers in different ways because we’re younger and we’re taking care of people that are our age and we’re watching them struggle and some of them die and that’s really, really hard," Roark said.

"It’s really hard to watch anyone die, but when they’re younger, you just have this feeling that they had so much more of their life to live," he said.

Roark said although they're treating patients with life-threatening issues right away, they'll never turn anyone away.

“My message for people now is if you are sick, please come to the hospital. We want to take care of you. What we saw with the last pandemic is people delayed care and then when they did come to the emergency room they were even sicker," he said.

"Your life is important. Do not take that for granted," Roark said.

Everyone who enters the ER has to wear a mask. Roark said they separate those with COVID symptoms from those without. He said with so many younger, sicker patients coming in with COVID, this is the worst he has seen things.

“This is much more challenging. We have not experienced challenging times like this in my career and I have been a nurse for over 20 years and this is definitely bringing out all of our creative juices and taxing us, but, again, we’re doing everything we can," Roark said. "We want the community to know that Jacksonville is blessed with great healthcare providers and we want to do our best to care for our community," he said.

Other than the challenge of managing the influx of patients, Roark said what the COVID patients tell him is even harder.

“I would say the biggest challenge I face is taking care of those patients who are now sick who have COVID who have looked at me and literally shed tears and said, 'I wish I would’ve gotten vaccinated. I really wish I would’ve gotten vaccinated.' And that breaks my heart because all it takes is the vaccine and then your conditions aren’t nearly as severe," he said.

“If you have the vaccine and you get sick, it’s a quick recovery. If you don’t have the vaccine and you get sick, it’s an extended recovery and it’s very severe," he said. "The acuity is high and it demoralizes you because there’s really no cure. I need to stress that. There is no cure for COVID. It’s a virus, so the vaccine is the cure so please get vaccinated," Roark said.

First Coast News reached out to other local hospitals regarding ER wait times. Memorial Hospital and Orange Park Medical Center sent this statement.

"Like other hospitals in the area, we are experiencing longer than usual wait times. This occurred during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is happening again now that we are in a spike. It’s important for everyone to know that our ER is safe. If a person is experiencing emergency symptoms of any kind, it’s critical that they seek medical care right away. Delaying treatment could make their medical situation worse."

Ascension Saint Vincent's sent this following statement.

"The health and safety of our patients and community remains our top priority.

The number of hospitalized patients and ER wait times fluctuate frequently, so any individual data points are only a moment-in-time snapshot and do not accurately tell the full story. Like other local facilities have indicated, we have seen a notable increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in our facilities, which can lead to longer wait times.

Our emergency rooms remain open and ready to care for anyone who needs emergency services. We also encourage those in our community with non-emergency needs to visit any of our health centers or urgent care locations throughout our community. We also offer virtual care for non-emergency needs through Ascension Online Care. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to safely treat all who come to us for care.

We cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated. We believe the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any identified risks or side effects.

Everyone in our community plays a critical role in keeping us safe from this virus. The most effective way of protecting each other is to get vaccinated and ensure your loved ones are vaccinated."

Mayo Clinic's spokesperson said she's looking into ER wait time numbers, and sent the following statement.

“People who are experiencing a medical emergency should seek medical assistance right away. Mayo Clinic urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible. We strongly encourage social distancing, staying away from large gatherings, hand washing and wearing a mask.”

A Look At the Numbers:

  • As of July 29, there are 433 COVID-19 positive patients across the 5-hospital health system with 91 of those patients in the ICU. Baptist says 15 of the 438 patients are in Wolfson Children’s Hospital. 
  • As of July 20, Baptist reported 253 COVID patients admitted within its five hospital systems and 59 within the ICU across all hospitals.  A spokesperson said only 1 patient of the 253 has been fully vaccinated. Nine are children.
  • On July 15, Baptist health told First Coast News they had 170 COVID patients in their hospital, which was already an increase from the week before. Of those, 36 of those patients were in the ICU and almost all of them were unvaccinated.

FREE COVID-19 TESTING SITES 

Please bring a valid form of ID.

  • Agape Family Health - Northside, located at 1680 Dunn Avenue, Jacksonville. Thursday & Friday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Phone: 904-760-4904
  • Agape Family Health - Westside, 5460 Blanding Blvd. Monday - Wednesday, 11 am - 6 pm. Phone: 904-760-4904
  • Department of Health - 515 West 6th St. Tuesday - Friday, 9 am - 4 pm. This location is walk-up.
  • Mission House - 800 Shetter Ave., Jax Beach, Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm. 
  • Sulzbacher Center -  611 E Adams St., Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 am

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