An ambulance crew weaves a gurney through the halls of Sparrow Hospital’s emergency department in Lansing, Michigan. Overcrowding has forced the staff to triage patients, putting some in the waiting rooms and treating others on stretchers and chairs in the halls.
Inside the emergency department at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich., staff members are struggling to care for patients who are showing up much sicker than they’ve ever seen.
Tiffani Dusang, the emergency room’s nursing director, practically vibrates with pent-up anxiety, looking at all the patients lying on a long line of stretchers pushed up against the beige walls of the hospital’s hallways. “It’s hard to watch,” she says in her warm Texan twang.
But there’s nothing she can do. The ER’s 72 rooms are already filled.
“I always feel very, very bad when I walk down the hallway and see that people are in pain or needing to sleep or needing quiet. But they have to be in the hallway with, as you can see, 10 or 15 people walking by every minute.”
It’s a stark contrast to where this emergency department — and thousands others — were at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Except for initial hot spots like New York City, many ERs across the U.S. were often eerily empty in the spring of 2020. Terrified of contracting COVID-19, people who were sick with other things did their best to stay away from hospitals. Visits to emergency departments dropped to half their normal levels, according to the Epic Health Research Network, and didn’t fully rebound until the summer of 2021.
But now, they’re too full. Even in parts of the country where COVID-19 isn’t overwhelming the health system, patients are showing up to the ER sicker than they were before the pandemic, their diseases more advanced and in need of more complicated care.