The issue of emergency department preparedness is not a new one, and CMS is getting heat from Congress for not taking action on the problem. In recent years, lower ED capacity and higher patient demand has placed strain on the system even under the best of circumstance, and officials fear EDs are woefully unprepared to handle public health disasters. During a hearing at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, witnesses testified that despite the fact that many EDs are overcrowded and understaffed, CMS has done little to alleviate the problem.
"Our public health infrastructure, particularly emergency medical response capacity, is still not ready for prime time," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA).
In particular, the committee questioned CMS about the practice of boarding, in which patients are admitted to the ED when there are no beds available, and the costly problem of ambulance diversion. The questions were sent to CMS administrator Leslie Norwalk, who did not attend the hearing. A response is expected by Jun 29th.
While CMS should certainly tackle this problem, anyone who's followed the topic of ED overcrowding know all too well that it's a complicated problem with no quick fixes.
For more background on the issue:
- see this Wall Street Journal report
Overcrowding worsens at nation's EDs. Report
Congress takes on ER overcrowding. Report
Improving ED overcrowding. Column