HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — News 19 had received several viewer news tips in recent weeks from people concerned about “long wait times” for the emergency department at Huntsville Hospital.

So we reached out to the Medical Director for the Emergency Department, Dr. Daniel Neuberger to learn what’s causing any waiting room backups.

“Wait times have always been an issue,” Dr. Neuberger said.

However, he gave several explanations for the recent long wait times some people might be experiencing.

“I would say part of it is volume, part of it is admission holds, and then if these are more recent reports that you are hearing, holidays are always difficult for the emergency department,” he said.

Dr. Neuberger said that around the holidays a lot of medical offices close, and people who would typically just go there, end up seeking care in the emergency department.

“We’re it, we’re the thing that’s open,” he said.

One News 19 viewer said she took her son to the ER on Monday, Jan. 2, during the New Year’s holiday weekend. She said her son wasn’t seen by a doctor until Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 a.m.

The frustrated viewer said her son was triaged very quickly, but they had to wait because other people were seen first. She said her son who had been sick for several days was experiencing difficulty breathing, and she was concerned he had the Flu or Pneumonia.

She said they went to the ER because they anticipated needing to get a chest X-ray.

The viewer told News 19 she was confused why it took them so long to be seen when at first there weren’t that many people in the waiting room.

However, Dr. Neuberger, the Emergency Department Medical Director told News 19 that the reasons for a long wait aren’t always visible to those in the waiting room. He said they of course treat those who are the “sickest of the sick” or in severe medical emergencies first.

“Patients who need medical care immediately, they get it,” he said. “A lot of our patients get seen in less than ten minutes by a physician or nursing staff.”

Dr. Neuberger said one of the biggest challenges for the Emergency Department as of late, is admission holds. That means patients who have been admitted to the hospital but aren’t yet transferred from the ER.

“It’s tough to have very short wait times when half or more of your beds are occupied by admitted patients,” he said.

He said those admitted holds are due to a bed shortage in other departments.

“If I have a patient who is holding in the emergency department, for a bed upstairs, that might make it so that I can’t see anybody through that bed through the whole day,” said Dr. Neuberger.

“Whereas my whole length of stay in an emergency department for a patient who gets discharged might be four hours if that bed is completely occupied for the whole 24 hours, that’s a lot of patients that we just missed out, that’s six patients, right, that we weren’t able to see because there is an admitted patient in that bed,” he said.

News 19 asked what the hospital is doing to address the bed shortage issue.

The Medical Director said they are making adjustments and fixing it slowly.

“We recently just opened an eight-bed fast track actually,” he said. “From a number of bed standpoint, I’m not certain that we’re going to significantly increase from where we are right now [the number of beds], although in the past several months we have had an increase in the number of beds to see patients in.”

Dr. Neuberger also pointed to the fact that Huntsville Hospital is the main hospital for the whole Huntsville Hospital System, which has branches all over north Alabama and even in parts of Tennessee. He said they do see a lot of patient transfers, and by the time they reach Huntsville Hospital, they need to be attended to immediately.

The Medical Director also said staffing at the hospital is “improving” but they are still hiring.

“We’re always hiring nurses, techs, nurse practitioners,” he said.

He said he doesn’t want people to be discouraged by wait times.

“Despite these long wait times which are unfortunate and something that we need to improve on,” Neuberger said, “the sickest of the sick are truly getting excellent care here, and I don’t want to discourage people from coming to the department because they think it’s going to be a prolonged wait.”