In March 2020, hospitals sounded alarms that their emergency rooms were too overwhelmed to accommodate people seeking a COVID-19 test or treatment for milder symptoms. Now, roughly 17 months later, it's the same story.
"They're telling us that they are overwhelmed," said Holly Binnig, chief medical officer of HealthSource of Ohio, a nonprofit community health service. "That there are so many people sitting in their emergency rooms. That they cannot care for those who have truly emergent needs."
She said emergency departments across the Tri-State have told her they're overwhelmed with people seeking COVID-19 tests as a new surge of the virus has caused exposure and cases to rise significantly.
"We have a finite number of resources and our most valuable resource is our people," said Christa Hyson, with the Health Collaborative. "Staffing is already strained and the more people that come in with things that may not be emergency room appropriate, it would just be better if everyone seeks the care of the best level for them."
Organizations like HealthSource of Ohio offer COVID-19 testing. People seeking proof of a negative test should rely on similar health centers, urgent care centers or other outpatient centers for their testing needs instead of walking into an ER.
"Patients who have been exposed to COVID and need a negative test to go back to work ... concerts, other venues, cruises are all asking for proof of a negative test," said Binnig.
For mild symptoms of COVID-19, Hyson said, people should visit an outpatient office or designated testing location. In Northern Kentucky, Gravity Diagnostics has been offering daily drive-through testing.
"What we don't want to happen is the person who has a stroke not be able to have a bed," said Binnig. "For those of us who do outpatient medicine, this is where we can help. So emergency rooms are designed to take care of emergency patients; we are designed to take care of patients who need outpatient care."
For additional testing locations, the Health Collaborative has a database of free COVID-19 testing sites available.