Official attitudes, pre-H1N1 outbreak: Long hospital emergency department waits are a complex problem that isn't going away anytime soon.
Official attitudes post-H1N1 outbreak: Long ED waits are a public health hazard, so make go away, now.
That, at least, is the demand that Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center is facing from local officials, who have insisted that the county facility cut wait times by transferring patients more quickly. Los Angeles County supervisors have demanded that the hospital transfer patients when more than 13 are waiting for ED beds, or when average wait times in the department hit 11 hours. Officials estimate that the new policy will cost $2.5 million per year, largely due to the cost of caring for indigent patients and those without private insurance or Medi-Cal.
County leaders say that current overcrowding at County-USC would cripple any efforts to manage an H1N1-related patient surge. According to research, the hospital is operating at "severely" and "dangerously" overcrowded levels 30 to 40 percent of the time. Wait times just to get emergency care can hit 24 hours at times, according to Los Angeles County officials.
Since receiving their marching orders, the ED has cut wait times, and that the volume of patients waiting to be seen has fallen, County-USC officials say. However, they warn that all three of the EDs within the county system are likely to continue struggling, in part due to the sagging economy and rising numbers of uninsured patients.
To learn more about this issue:
- read this Los Angeles Times piece
CDC report backs emergency department overcrowding charges
CMS faces ED overcrowding scrutiny
Study: ED crowding affects care