(LAS VEGAS) KTNV — No privacy. No rest. Lights on around the clock. Multiple patients grouped together in a zippered plastic tent in a hospital hallway.
"Nobody should ever be treated that way," said UMC patient Kevin Child.
"Health care in our state is good. It needs to get a lot better," said Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who thinks overcrowding is a thing of the past and was left behind after the height of the pandemic.
"We were short of beds. We were putting people in hallways and different areas," said Sisolak. "That's all back to normal now and people can get their standard health care."
Not quite, says Child.
"Late at night I experienced chest pain, it was very throbbing."
You may recognize Child's name. He's a former CCSD school board trustee.
But on March 8, he was just another patient needing urgent medical care.
"I went onto WebMD, looked up the symptoms, and it said possible heart attack, so I got myself prepared and went to the emergency room at UMC."
Child says he was quickly taken and hooked up to a heart monitor, but after that, his care stopped to a halt.
"They put me in a reclining chair in a hallway for almost 17 hours," Child said. "I'm afraid for my heart! I've got a cardiovascular problem and now I'm going, if something happens, I don't want to die!"
"Patients are not getting appropriate care if they are in a hallway in a chair somewhere," said Nurse Erica, a former UMC nurse who asked us not to use her last name.
She worked at the hospital for nine years, but left right before the pandemic hit.
"Does it surprise you, having worked at UMC, to see stuff like that?" asked Darcy Spears.
"No," Erica replied. "Not at all."
Another patient who went to UMC with chest pain at the end of March emailed 13 Investigates with a similar story.
Her family says she was kept in a chair at UMC's emergency department hallway for about 35 hours without access to food, her regular medication, or a way to contact family.
"I felt alone!" Child said, who was eventually transferred to a bed, but not in a regular room.
"It was tented off with plastic. with a zipper for a doorway, and they had nine beds in that room and it was co-ed."
"You would not normally ever put male and female patients together in the same room like that," said nurse Erica. "That's unusual."
Kevin's photos and cell phone videos document images reminiscent of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
"That's what I felt," Child said. "I felt like I was in the 4077 M*A*S*H unit."
Another nurse who was working at UMC when Kevin was there spoke to us on background. She feared backlash if she went on camera.
She called the plastic tent a terrible way to admit patients, describing it as inhumane, unsanitary and not properly supplied in case of emergency.
She says patients were housed in that make-shift unit for days without call buttons, televisions or running water; sometimes having to use portable toilets where other patients could see and hear the toilets.
"The area that we were in wasn't really climate-controlled," Child said. "It was very warm. The lights were on all night long, all day long. I figured if somebody got COVID in that room, it was going to bounce around pretty heavily and we were all going to get sick."
Kevin's pictures show duct tape beginning to detach from the ceiling where it's holding up plastic sheet walls.
"If they were trying to quarantine anything, that would not have been effective," said nurse Erica. "It was haphazard."
Kevin says sleep was impossible, and despite some mobile screens, privacy was nearly non-existent.
Nurse Erica watched the videos Kevin took while in the hospital.
In one of his videos, she says, "you could hear nurses doing neuro-exams in the background. I don't know a single nurse that would be happy or comfortable with that."
UMC did not provide an on-camera interview, but they sent a statement explaining that the hospital was experiencing a domino effect from patients who delayed care during the height of COVID.
Public Relations Director Scott Kerbs wrote, "to ensure every patient received the vital health care services they needed, we temporarily opened several surge units to increase UMC's bed capacity. While some of these units lacked amenities such as televisions for each patient and comfortable recliners for visitors, all of these areas were climate controlled and provided the highest level of care for patients, regardless of their location within the hospital."
Nurse Erica asks, "if they were over their bed capacity, why they didn't go temporarily on divert status until they could accommodate all of those patients appropriately?"
We asked, and Kerbs said, "all local hospitals were at high capacity during this time, and hospitals cannot turn away walk-in traffic. We have a responsibility to care for every patient who walks through our doors."
Child hopes some of the $6.7 billion Nevada received in federal COVID-relief funds can be spent on increasing capacity at our county hospital.
"We've been through this pandemic and it hurt a lot of people," Child said. "We want to make sure that when somebody goes through that door, they have a bed!"
UMC says over the past few weeks, with patient volumes returning to normal levels, all surge areas have closed and ER hold times have substantially improved.
Read the hospital's full statement:
"UMC has a responsibility to care for every patient who comes through our doors, and we cannot simply turn people away during periods of high volume. UMC’s world-class team members have gone above and beyond to care for our community during its greatest time of need. Throughout the past two years, our team significantly expanded UMC’s capacity, essentially building a hospital within a hospital while delivering life-saving care for our community. This situation was not unique to UMC, with every hospital in our community facing high patient volumes and capacity challenges.
"To ensure every patient received the vital health care services they needed, we temporarily opened several surge units to increase UMC’s bed capacity. While some of these units lacked amenities such as televisions for each patient and comfortable recliners for visitors, all of these areas were climate controlled and provided the highest level of care for patients, regardless of their location within the hospital.
"Our team members work tirelessly to provide patients with the best possible experiences. Nearly all of UMC’s surge areas were located in existing clinical spaces with clear separation between patients. In extremely limited cases, our team used mobile privacy screens to separate patients within certain temporary surge units.
"Although many other hospitals across the country resorted to treating patients in tents and parking garages at the height of the pandemic, our team at UMC always delivered care within the walls of our hospital. To promote the highest level of service, our dedicated Patient Experience Team frequently visited these surge areas to check in with patients and address their needs. This team distributed iPads to patients, providing valuable entertainment options and videoconferencing capabilities when visiting hours were limited.
"While COVID-19 cases and surge demand have dramatically declined during the past few weeks, local hospitals recently experienced an influx of high-acuity patients requiring longer hospitals stays. UMC’s team rapidly addressed these capacity challenges, and we have since returned to normal operations. With patient volumes returning to normal levels, all surge areas have closed and ER hold times have improved substantially, with UMC quickly moving patients to inpatient units.
"We have observed a trend of community members delaying care during periods of high COVID-19 activity and visiting hospitals in large numbers for critical services following each surge. This trend was especially noticeable immediately following the omicron surge, with an unusually large number of high-acuity patients visiting local hospitals after delaying care for weeks or months. With more severely ill patients requiring longer stays, hospitals in Southern Nevada had extremely limited bed availability for several weeks. In addition, hospitals continued to care for many COVID-19 patients during this time period. The average hospital stay for COVID-19 patients is twice as long as the overall average for non-COVID patients.
"It’s important to note that this was a bed capacity issue, not a staffing issue. The local shortage of skilled nursing and rehabilitation beds compounded these challenges, leaving hospitals with fewer options for discharging patients to lower levels of care.
"UMC’s team acted swiftly to address these challenges. UMC recently opened a new observation unit that has played a valuable role in reducing unnecessary hospitalizations while providing patients with immediate access to the care they deserve. Staffed by a team of experienced physicians and nurses, this new observation unit is designed to treat lower-acuity patients who do not require inpatient care. UMC has also introduced a new multidisciplinary committee of experts who work collaboratively to promote efficient discharge and admission processes."