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L+M posting emergency room wait times at 3 locations

New London — When it comes to hospital emergency rooms, southeastern Connecticut residents have options.

And now they can choose among them based on wait times.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital has begun posting emergency room wait times at L+M and its nearby affiliates — Pequot Health Center in Groton and Westerly Hospital — on its website, www.lmhospital.org, the first hospital in the Yale New Haven Health system to provide such a service.

Backus Hospital in Norwich, a member of Hartford HealthCare, posts ER wait times at Backus, the Backus Emergency Care Center in Plainfield and Windham Hospital in Willimantic.

L+M’s site updates average wait times every 15 minutes.

Dr. Craig Mittleman, director of emergency medical services at L+M, said the hospital’s goal is to have every emergency room patient seen by a physician or a physician’s assistant as soon as the patient arrives. But, he said, the reality is that wait times vary due to some days simply being busier than others, the prevalence of disease or illness in an area and weather. No industry standard exists for what ER wait times should be, he said.

Circumstances can dictate the order in which patients are seen, of course, meaning a posted wait time should not be viewed as a guarantee, hospital officials said. Patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses must be treated ahead of those with less serious issues.

“We have the unique privilege of being responsible for three facilities located a short distance from each other and providing people with information that can help them decide where to go makes sense,” said Mittleman, who likened a patient’s choice of one of the ERs to a driver moving into the lane with the shortest line upon approaching a highway toll plaza.

Staff members also benefit from having patients more evenly distributed among the three locations.

For some patients, such as those familiar with a particular facility, wait times are not a factor.

“We don’t expect it to affect our overall volumes,” Mittleman said of the new feature.

L+M’s emergency room — busier now than at any time during the past 18 months — handles more than 50,000 patient visits a year, while Pequot Health Center handles more than 30,000 and Westerly Hospital more than 20,000.

“People who avoided emergency rooms during the pandemic are getting back to trusting them. They’re no longer deferring care the way they were before,” Mittleman said. “We’re open for business.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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