Letters: Calls for Changes at SGMC ER

| September 4, 2015


Christy Yates, SGMC Emergency Room Patient


I recently had cause to visit the SGMC ER. I am blessed with a GI tract that does not recover itself from routine stomach flu, food poisoning, etc. without medical intervention, so trips to the ER for fluids and IV medications are not unusual for me. In the past, I have utilized Smith’s ER, which was more conveniently located to me than SGMC. This instance was a bit different.  I arrived at SMGC at 4:30pm, after being turned away by Smith’s new urgent care unit (take note that ‘they don’t do abdominal issues’). I finally got to see a doctor at 11pm. Seven hours I waited, dividing my time between trying to lay on hard metal chairs and running to the bathroom (which was never cleaned the entire time I was there). If it weren’t for two dear friends that took turns sitting with me, I would have been helpless.

But this letter is not really about me (I’m ok, once I was finally seen and treated by Dr. Funt, whom I really liked, and two nurses who were quite professional and caring, I was released at 4 am and am recovering at home). This letter is an open plea to encourage changes in the state of emergency medicine in our community. I understand closing Smith ER was a practical move of organizational efficiency. I even agree with that decision based on sound business theory. But it’s clear that SGMC does not have the capacity to care for the amount of patients it is now tasked with seeing. A seven hour wait is unconscionable on a routine basis. The lack of cleanliness in a waiting room where patients are expected to wait seven hours is appalling. Only two bathroom stalls for that volume of patients is not acceptable.

I felt horrible for the nursing staff, particularly the triage nurses who had people begging them to be seen and all they could say was ‘I’m so sorry, I know you’re in pain, but we don’t have a bed for you’… over and over they had to chant this litany. It has to eat at their soul not to be able to help the sea of patients waiting.

If this situation was an anomaly, if there had been a 15 car pile up on I-75 with a ton of patients rushed in at once, I wouldn’t utter a peep. But when this is standard ER experience (as both staff and community members have confirmed to me), then it’s not acceptable. On top of being violently ill yesterday, I was also sickened by the capacity for emergency care our community is provided with. South Georgia Medical Center needs to address these issues. It needs to provide adequate staffing to meet the community’s needs. It needs to to put operational procedures in place to provide space resources, equipment and cleaning protocols that match its capacity demands.  SGMC ER needs an organizational overhaul. I can’t imagine that talented doctors and nurses will be long term employees in this environment. Investing in adequate staffing and resources will pay off in reduced turnover and increased operational efficiency. But most importantly, it will pay off in improved patient care experiences; something this community deserves, and should be demanding.

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17 Comments on "Letters: Calls for Changes at SGMC ER"

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  1. Elgarth Fairchild says:

    ER stands for EMERGENCY ROOM. Emergencies are not colds, flu, headaches, tummy aches, etc. Emergencies are Major injuries, unexpected illnesses, and the like. The reason the ER is always busy is because people with non-emergency issues try and use the department as a regular Dr.’s office or free pharmacy.

    I will be the Devil’s Advocate here. So if the author has a known medical condition AND knows what causes onset of symptoms then why is she relying on the ER to make her well? She should have a medical plan in place with her Doctor to deal with the issues and the ER should be a last resort.

    Is SGMC’s ER flawed? Yes it is. They have one of lowest paid RN staffs in the state in relation to size of facility and metro area. They have even worse paid non-professional staff. Their “benefits” are terrible. Turnover is high so they hire new nurses who jump ship when they get enough experience and the experienced staff are disgruntled and callous thanks to years of horrible treatment. Could it be overhauled? Yes. However a lot of strain would be taken off the place if Jamal, Jose, and Harry went to the Walgreens for cough syrup instead of the ER.

    • Ron C. says:

      Apparently you can’t read and I quote “I recently had cause to visit the SGMC ER. I am blessed with a GI tract that does not recover itself from routine stomach flu, food poisoning, etc. without medical intervention, so trips to the ER for fluids and IV medications are not unusual for me.” S/he apparently has something other than just vomiting and bowel problems..
      Maybe SGMC should look into 24/7 urgent care. They legally cannot turn someone away even if it is during urgent care hours. I had a relative who went in for elevated BP / Heart Rate / Faintness and she was there from 4pm until about Midnight.

    • Christy Yates says:

      My GI condition is managed by daily meds. I have a medical plan with my Dr, a local Gastroenterologist, as well as physicians consulting on my case at Mayo Clinic, ranked number one medical system in the United States. I have prescriptions to take when severe episodes hit, and had taken everything at my disposal at the first signs of distress. Unfortunately, when I reach the point of having simultaneous vomiting and diaherea at intervals of less than five minutes apart for several hours on end, then I need intravenous intervention. I headed first to the new Smith urgent care unit and was refused service and sent to the SGMC ER. If a walk-in clinic were equipped to handle my medical needs, trust me, it would be my first option always! Sadly, that isn’t an option for me.

      • Sarah says:

        I have a situation similar to yours but so far I have not had to go to the ER and dread the day that might happen because I would have no choice E but to stay in that b a throw until I could be seen and that is scary. What is needed is a on site triage nurse .By this I mean one that can assess as patients come on and then decide if they can wait. Then of not send to a triage nurse that can start the workup and see the serious of the situation
        Like you for example ha E a room with 5 or 6 beds where an I could be started and fluids started. My husband last year was dying and it was pointed out toe an x out of people were ahead of him , well I looked around and saw those waiting was laughing , eating h, and drinking cokes and I blew my lid . they got him back quickly key and started working on him .I won’t go into all after that but I did lose him a few weeks later
        My point is it should not be first come first serve. It should be who needs it first which could be handle with a good triage nurse .

      • Kelly K says:

        Christy I have compassion for you and your illness, it’s a shame Mr Fairchild does not! Unfortunately until one experiences a serious chronic illness, they will never know the truth behind the total discomfort and agonizing reality of it all. You are correct and as you most likely already know SGMC is strongly disliked by a large majority of locals to VLD. I thank you for the letter and hope they make positive changes based on your letter; although I am doubtful SGMC will. It is one of the worst medical businesses I have unfortunately been required to use for an emergency also. Yes I say business…which is exactly what medical care has become. And thanks to our politicians whom voted in Obama Care, the industry has only gotten worse.

      • Concerned Citizen says:

        As a healthcare worker in a Doctor Office, I hear of this same situation on a daily basis. It’s so hard to say to the patient on the phone in pain, “please go to the ER”, when that is the only option for care at that very moment. I know what the outcome of that trip is going to be. Not only is the trip going to be a lengthy process it’s going to be an expensive one too. Most likely there are going to be wait times too see a Doctor anywhere go. There is an unbelievable amount of charting and dictating detail that goes into each visit by the doctor before he is able to move on the next patient. I am all for paying for services that are rendered but on top of each individual physician fee, you also have multiple hospital fees that are outrageous. I don’t understand how the markup can be so different from other facilities. For example, how does one facility charge $8000 or more for a catscan that doesn’t include the radiologist reading fee when another facility not even 100 miles away has the same exact scan including the contrast that may be given along with the reading of the study for only $250-$300???? And that price is for patients with and without insurance. Research this online as there are many options. Even when a precertification is obtained by a physician office the insurance companies respone most of the time is, for the best price interest for the patient would they consider driving a few more miles for lower out of pocket expenses? Travling is not an option for many people due to many reasons though. I know that this is going in a different direction then what was originally posted but it’s very sad the way the healthcare world has gone completely down the drain. When a physician orders a test/procedure to be done on a patient there is a medical reason behind it and it needs to be done. But instead it’s up to a financial department (which most likely has no clinical experience) to make the final decision based on payment. Again I know services need to be paid for by the receiving party, but if someone is in need of having a test done there should not be a outragous financial obligation due before services are rendered. Just as a personal opinion from someone on the inside of the Healthcare world I think things should be re-evaluated. The staff at SGMC are treated horribly, the upkeep of certain ares are not delta with, the quality of care has went down tremendously, and the Physicians are left out of the loop when their patients are sent there to be taken care of. These are just a few of my thoughts. I think the man/woman in charge should have to be a part of the day to day function of the way things are done instead of sitting in an office sending other people out to check out the situations. This community is too large to have a hospital that is constantly at full capacity with limited local options.

  2. Marilyn Nichols says:

    I whole heartedly agree with the above letter. We have just this week experienced an emergency situation with my brother who had an accident. He lay in the ER 12 hours on a gurney before he even got a bed and was told he would have to spend the night in the ER because there were no rooms available anywhere in the hospital. At 3:30 the next day, 27 hours later, he was finally put in a room. The ER nurses and staff were frantic and stressed out, trying to do their jobs under these circumstances.
    Then there’s the situation with no one’s family physician being able to come in the hospital anymore and having to deal with Hospitalists taking care of you, when in most cases you never see the same one twice. You feel like no one is following up on anything and you just wait and wait some more.
    Our whole health system has gone up a creek without a paddle. Something needs to change.

    • Nancy Nurse says:

      It’s not that the family doctors are not allowed to practice there anymore. Most have chosen to quit working in the hospital setting and only want to see patients in the office. That leaves only the hospitalists to admit and attend to these patients during their stay. There’s only one at night, more during the day. So whatever they are paying them is not nearly enough because they have responsibility for the whole facility. They have to handle each patient the ER doc decides to admit, getting their history and performing a physical exam. They then have to go over the medication list (if the patient and/or family can remember other than “a white heart pill” or similar) and decide what they need to take while in the hospital. They have to enter in the computer all the other orders for ongoing diagnostic tests, diet, therapies and treatments, IV fluids, activity level, consultations with specialists and other disciplines, etc. God forbid there be a code or other urgent situation on their shift. I’d be screaming “I’m only one person!”

  3. Toni Miller says:

    I agree in some aspects. A common cold is not a reason to go to ER. However, they need a urgent care for the non-emergency that have longer hours or something in that matter. There are people that have waited 12 hours for gallbladder, appendix rupture things of that nature that need fast help. Better pay more workers and an alternative to the situation needs to be addressed. I couldn’t agree more with the situation and the fact of mending it still needs to be addressed.

  4. Jake says:

    As soon as i can go in and out during a real emergency within 1-2 hrs ill pay sgmc the money they owe me. Hundreds of others feel the same way. Improve your quality or risk losing tens of thousands. It doesnt take 8 f$&@ing hours to see someone in need. You are dragging it out And we wont have it.

  5. Dana Watson says:

    Very similar experience with my 85 year old father who was taken by ambulance from Nashville! Please note that the visit to the ER was not our choice! What is it with “waiting for a room”? Is the hospital that full? Do they not have the staff needed to get the available rooms cleaned? Are there rooms available but the Drs. want their patients on certain floors? AND then there’s the check out! Why must one wait hours and hours and hours to go home because the Hospitalist hasn’t been around?

  6. I Had To Go One Time says:

    It was after listening to Frank Barnas’ radio show for five minutes.

    A severe case of nausea.

  7. Kathy Dallas says:

    I recently had a chance to go to Smith Northview. The people there were fantastic but VERY apologetic that they could not help our “non-life threatening’ emergency as they didn’t have the equipment or the meds. I was told they didn’t have the ability to do a strep or flu culture. we were there for a toe injury that ended up requiring something the doctor at one time did in Smith treatment rooms but there was no equipment but had to be done in SGMC outpatient. Isn’t that what they advertise on the radio if you have sore throat, flu, minor cuts breaks? My daughter and I could not have asked for the staff to be any more helpful and caring, they just didn’t have the equipment/meds/materials to do what they are trained to do.

  8. Sharon C. says:

    I sure there are things that need adjusting but if you go to the ER (Emergency Room) for a non- emergency expect to wait. If it is NOT an emergency go to the multiple walk in clinics (I have been to these walk ins myself & they are GREAT), your own doctor or wait until your doctors office is open. I have medical coverage and if I go to the ER & it’s NOT an emergency they won’t pay. Maybe, that would clear out the ER some for real EMERGENCIES. Wake up people; cold, cough, head ache, allergies and the likes DON’T say ER!

  9. Shirley Veal says:

    What happened to YouthCare? No place to take a sick child after 4:00pm except ER at So Ga Med Cent for a 6-8 wait. It’s needed after 4 because the doctor’s offices are open until then. We had an unknown insect bite with a mild allergic reaction. It could have been a lot more serious. We had to wait for over 6 hrs. It seems that a children’s ER should be available somewhere in Valdosta after hours.

  10. Jean Wilson says:

    I do agree with how long it takes to be seen in the ER at SGMC, but until you have worked in the ER you do not really know what goes on. For example a patient that comes in and complains with chest pain, no matter if it is indigestion, stress or whatever the problem the chest pain is treated as if it is a heart problem. Now if you come in (and there are patients that do this) complaining of chest pains and are really here for other reasons that are not told until you get to the back, then all the test they do for chest pain has to be done alone with whatever has to be run for the real problem. And nothing can be done for you as far as Medicines until the results come back from test such as X-rays, blood work, CT scans and all the other test that have been done. Now while they are working on you someone that is really having a heart attack could be in trouble because the Staff is trying to find out what is wrong with you, whom really is not there for their heart to begin with. In other words when you go to the ER tell the truth about what is wrong with you do not tell Staff something that is not going on just to get you to the back quicker, these are some of the reasons insurances are so high now and if you have Medicare/Medicaid they are paying for all these test that is costing others for something that is not wrong with you. I have even seen people ride an ambulance in to the ER because they got a sticker in there finger, now had that been me I would have taken a needle burned the end of it and picked that sticker out not cost the government for a ride to ER on the Ambulance and the ER cost to get this sticker out. It is so sad that our society is doing things like this and things like this is why the ER is frozen at times, seems as if the people in the waiting room is never going to go back. Now you know some of the reasons, people lying about what is wrong with them, taking up space to get things done that you could do at home like the person with the sticker in the finger or a person that comes in with a child with a common cold and they have 3 other children that are not sick but when they get to the ER the parent says “you might as well going ahead and let the Doctor so the other 3 what time they are here”, yes this happens quite a bit, or a person comes in and says I think I have been around someone that might have the flu, they are not sick but they think they might be in a few days because of being around someone that might have the flu, yes they have to be seen. When you get a bunch of people in the ER that are not really sick, that is taking up the use of the ER bed/room, the Nurse that has that room, the Doctor over that area, the techs and all the people that have to come take blood work, urine samples, etc. then to set and wait for all those results before it comes to light that you are not sick and can go home. Now some of these test may take 5 to 7 hours to get back because those departments get behind also, you see those departments have to do test for not only the ER but for the whole Hospital.

    Yes I worked in and around the ER Department several years and I have also been a Patient. The last time I stayed in the ER for probably 7 hours before being sent to the floor and I stayed for 8 days upstairs. Do I think some things could have been done different and better, yes but on a whole I have to say that God worked through these people in the ER, the two Heart/Lung Doctors that were working there from Tallahassee and the Staff upstairs to save my life.

    The next time you start to go to the ER Department stop and think, are you really sick to the point of taking a bed away from someone that is sick or hurt or could this not wait and you go to your Doctor or to a Clinic. People have started using the ER as a 24-7 Clinic and I truly believe that some people should be turned away from the doors and sent to a Clinic. This is the reason everyone should have a Primary Care Doctor, the ER should never be used for everything. ER stands for EMERGENCY ROOM, everything room.

    As a past employee of SGMC I can honestly say yes a lot of things could be changed and one of those would be to have more employees in the ER starting with the Registration Department, Cleaning Staff, and naturally all the ER Department Employees (Doctors, Nurses, Techs etc.) and the ER department needs more rooms. I know that the ER has been updated in the last several years and we have the Chest Pair/Heart area and I know that this area benefits our community, but I believe that the ER needs more room and more employees and please look at what these people are working for, they all need raises to keep them there and satisfied. They are going to give the best to the Patients no matter what they are getting paid but to keep them at SGMC you are going to have to come up with more pay and that is not just for the Nurse’s, you have to pay all workers including Registration Clerks, the Cleaning crew as well as all the others, it takes all of them to make one persons visit one to remember and remember WORD OF MOUTH GOES A LONG WAY.