‘I was sitting in a storage room’: Cary woman shares experience at ER amid COVID surge

North Carolina

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – A day after leaders from the three major hospitals in the Triangle spoke out about the impact of the COVID-19 surge, CBS 17 spoke with a woman about her experiences in the emergency room.

Liora Engel-Smith said she waited in a storage room that had been converted into a patient room for care.

“It felt very chaotic,” Engel-Smith said.

She was in a car accident Sunday and went to urgent care on Monday.

On Wednesday, she said she was still in a lot of pain and went to the ER at WakeMed Cary.

As a health reporter, she has spent much of the last year and a half covering the impact of COVID-19, but seeing it firsthand left an impression.

“It looked like staff was running around, they were very, very busy, there were beds in the hallway, you know I was sitting in a storage room they converted into a room,” Engel-Smith said.

She said hospital staff seemed exhausted, rushing from one patient to the next. The waves of people kept coming.

“Everywhere you turned there was a patient, and if there wasn’t a patient, there somebody was thinking about maybe, can we put a patient there,” she explained.

She took to Twitter to document her experiences, reminding people that this doesn’t just affect those with COVID-19 but anyone having an emergency, requiring medical attention.

“It’s a domino effect from the hospitals to the streets,” Brian Brooks, the assistant chief with Wake County EMS said.

Brooks said an ambulance can’t just drop a patient off at the hospital, his paramedics and EMTs have to wait until a bed is free.

The process usually takes about an hour, more recently that time has tripled.

“When they’re really busy, they have absolutely zero staff, they’ll go on what’s called divergence, and they’re basically closed to ambulances. That affects us because we might have to drive further to drop a patient off,” Brooks said.

Brooks stressed Wake County EMS triages calls, so those seriously injured get an ambulance first. Those who call and aren’t in immediate need will have to wait longer.

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