Almost Half of Hospitals Experience Crowded Emergency Departments

Published: September 30, 2006

ATLANTA – Between 40 percent and 50 percent of U.S. hospitals experience crowded conditions in the emergency department (ED) with almost two-thirds of metropolitan EDs experiencing crowding at times, according to a new report issued Sept. 27 by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The report, titled Staffing, Capacity, and Ambulance Diversion in Emergency Departments: United States, 2003-04, contains a number of findings, including:

  • An average of 4,500 EDs were in operation in United States during 2003 and 2004
  • Crowding in metropolitan EDs was associated with a higher percentage of nursing vacancies, higher patient volume, and longer patient waiting and treatment durations
  • Over half the EDs saw fewer than 20,000 patients annually but one out of 10 had an annual visit volume of more than 50,000 patients
  • Most EDs used outside contracts to provide physicians (64.7 percent)
  • Half of EDs in metropolitan areas had more than 5 percent of their nursing positions vacant
  • Approximately one-third of U.S. hospitals reported having to divert an ambulance to another emergency department due to overcrowding or staffing shortages at their ED

The full report can be viewed at


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