Ambulance Diversions from Sacramento Emergency Rooms Soaring, Study Finds
The number of hours that Sacramento County emergency rooms are forced to divert ambulances to other hospitals because of a lack of capacity has increased more than 600% over the past three years, according to a new study. The Sacramento Bee reports that the study, conducted by the
Hospital Council of Northern and Central California on behalf of Sacramento's health care system, found that the county's emergency rooms were closed to ambulances for 22,290 hours last year, up from 10,235 in 2000 and 3,272 in 1999. The study predicts that diversions will become the norm by the end of next year unless the county changes its ambulance program. The diversion program, which is used in many counties across the country, was originally established as a "stopgap" measure in the occasional cases where emergency rooms were overwhelmed. But today, staff cutbacks and reductions in inpatient beds have left many hospitals across the county with "backlogged" emergency rooms, leading to widespread diversions.
Hospitals acknowledge the growing problem and have "pledged to radically change the way they run their emergency departments" and reduce diversions by 50% by the end of the year, the Bee reports. "If we don't act now to cut the diversion hours by half, we could have a major crisis on our hands," Robert David, the hospital council's regional vice president, said. Over the next few months, hospital administrators, providers, county officials and health advocates will meet in an attempt to develop a replacement for the current protocol for diversions, which many consider too vague. Some county hospitals have already implemented practices designed to reduce overcrowding in emergency rooms. Mercy hospitals, for example, sometimes take patients directly to an exam room instead of making them wait. UC Davis Medical Center, meanwhile, uses "hospitalists," physicians who coordinate emergency room procedures to improve efficiency. "At this point, we're taking a hard look at what we've done and what we can do differently as a community to fix the diversion program," David said (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 2/8).