Congress takes on ER overcrowding

All this talk about ER overcrowding has caught Congress's attention. The Senate Health subcommittee on bioterrorism and public health preparedness heard testimony about the growing problem in ERs and the impact that a disaster could have on the nation's emergency departments. In the ten years from 1994 to 2004, the number of ER visits rose 18 percent, to 110 million. But over that same time period, the number of hospitals with ERs has fallen 12 percent. Lower capacity and higher demand has pushed the situation to the breaking point--and this is just under normal conditions. In the face of a natural disaster, disease outbreak or terrorist strike, ERs everywhere would be overextended. "If our emergency rooms are stretched thin now, how will they provide medical care in the event of a disaster?" Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) asked. The subcommittee heard several suggestions from industry experts on how to reduce crowding in the ER.

To read more about the testimony:
- read this Washington Post report