Report: Nation’s ERs On Verge Of Collapse

Published: June 29, 2006

WASHINGTON – Three comprehensive studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine have concluded that the nation’s emergency medical system as a whole is overburdened, underfunded and highly fragmented.

The studies are summarized in a report called Hospital-Based Emergency Care: At the Breaking Point and say that U.S. emergency rooms are dangerously overcrowded. The system is on the verge of collapse, and the country’s emergency rooms would be overwhelmed in the event of a disaster such as a terrorist attack, pandemic or natural catastrophe.

From 1993 to 2003, the American population grew by 12 percent, but ER visits increased by more than twice that amount (26 percent). More than half the visits were made by the uninsured or those on Medicaid and Medicare. During that same period, 425 emergency rooms closed and more than 198,000 beds were taken out of service. Additionally, nurses are in short supply, and smaller ERs cannot find specialists willing to treat high-risk patients. About half of the hospitals lost money providing emergency services.

As a result, long waits for emergency care are now a significant problem. Ambulances sometimes must wait hours to drop off patients.

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