Ryan Chiao, Senior Photographer

Due to unprecedented patient volumes and longer duration of stay, the Yale New Haven Hospital is temporarily extending its emergency room to the hospital’s parking lot.

With an influx of patients who have delayed hospital care for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic — often leading to more serious health problems when they do seek treatment — YNHH is facing a boarding crisis. Some patients wait in the emergency department for upwards of a day before a bed opens up, while others arrive, receive treatment and are discharged — all before entering a patient room. Still, YNHH has pledged not to turn away any patient who needs medical treatment, even if space is limited. The heightened demand has therefore prompted YNHH leadership to temporarily transform the parking lot, specifically the turnaround driveway outside the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital’s main entrance, into an extended space for patient care. 

“Our non-COVID-19 population has come back faster and sicker than before COVID-19,” said Michael Holmes, chief operating officer of the Yale New Haven Hospital. “A lot of our patients have delayed care, so now that they are back, they are sicker, have a higher acuity and are therefore staying longer, which creates capacity issues for us.”

The parking lot is one of five locations across the hospital’s campuses that is being temporarily converted to patient care space. The other areas include non-inpatient clinical areas, such as indoor infusion and ambulatory spaces. According to Holmes, three of the temporary expansions at the York Street campus and one expansion at the St. Raphael’s campus are located inside the hospital’s building. The parking lot is the hospital’s only outdoor expansion. 

Holmes shared that these five expansions will alleviate the overcrowding in the emergency department and allow the hospital to see and treat more patients. He explained that YNHH does not turn any patient away and will continue to provide medical treatment to patients even if space is limited. Transformation of the parking lot alone will give the hospital an additional 35 bay areas. The hospital expects to finish transforming the lot by mid-January and estimates that it will be in use until June 1, 2022. 

The hospital’s decision to increase the emergency department’s capacity was also motivated in part by an expected increase in COVID-19- and influenza-related cases in the coming months. According to Holmes, just like last year, the rate of viral transmission increases as the temperature drops and more individuals remain indoors. He also noted that the advent of the Omicron variant may contribute to a higher number of cases this year as well.

Holmes said that there are currently approximately 70 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in YNHH, which represents around 4.5 percent of the overall YNHH patient census. At the height of the pandemic in April, there were 450 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, which represented around 27 percent of the overall patient census. While YNHH does not currently anticipate a peak of similar magnitude, Holmes said that hospital leaders cannot be entirely sure of the future.

Vivek Parwani, medical director of the YNHH Adult Emergency Department, said that the emergency department is currently overwhelmed by the number of patients it’s seeing. Parwani explained that some patients wait in a hallway for upwards of a day for hospital bed placement.

“Our emergency department is in crisis, we have 58 beds and are frequently caring for over 120 patients,” Parwani wrote in an email to the News. “Much of our care ends up being provided in the waiting room and in hallways. Patients are evaluated and discharged daily from the waiting room.”

Parwani noted that the temporary expansions, which the state of Connecticut has approved for a duration of six months, will help alleviate the crisis. According to Parwani, the expansions represent tremendous multidisciplinary hospital and University efforts to decompress the emergency department. 

Mary Ellen Lyon, an instructor and a global health fellow who works in emergency medicine at the hospital, said that the entire hospital system is “somewhat overwhelmed,” as is the case nationally. Lyon added that the current overcrowding is stressful for everyone because it impacts patient care and comfort.

Holmes said that community members can help alleviate the hospital’s pressure and reduce the number of COVID-19- and influenza-related hospitalizations by receiving their COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, as well as booster shots. 

The Yale New Haven Hospital York Street campus is located at 20 York St. 

Brandon Wu covers relations between the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. Originally from Cupertino, he is a sophomore in Pauli Murray studying Computer Science and Humanities.