Fresno County-Area EDs ‘Overcrowded,’ Increasingly Diverting Ambulances
The emergency departments in Fresno County-area hospitals are "overcrowded, underfunded and plagued with shortages of nurses and beds," causing an increasing number of ambulance diversions, the Fresno Bee reports. With EDs "under stress" and unable to accomodate additional patients, some ambulances are forced to travel farther to reach the next available ED, "adding precious minutes to a medical emergency," the Bee reports. Dan Lynch, division manager for Fresno County Emergency Medical Services, said that hospitals in Fresno, Kings and Madera counties are diverting ambulances with increasing frequency and for longer periods of time. Over the past three years, the number of hours that hospitals in the three counties have had to divert ambulance traffic has more than doubled -- from 5,281 hours in 1998-99 to 11,986 hours in 2000-01. The number of approved diversions for the facilities has risen to 831 in 2000-01, up from 540 in the period from October 1998 to April 1999.
The area's growing population, coupled with a nursing shortage and an increase in the number of individuals who seek care at "emergency rooms rather than a doctor's office" have contributed to the problem, the Bee reports. Meanwhile, hospitals that "may have scaled back too much under the early pressures of managed care" are now looking at ways to accomodate more patients. Tim Curley, regional vice president of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, said that hospitals "are just as helpless" in solving the ED problem. Curley said, "It's a public health issue. A community issue. It's not just what is going [on] in the hospitals. You have to look at payment systems, the uninsured and the higher number of people using ERs, people with debilitating health problems." Curley said that although area hospitals are working to apply stricter diversion standards, including restrictions on how long a hospital can remain on diversion, it is only a "short-term fix." The Bee reports that hospitals are expanding and adding beds, but these projects are "years from completion." But hospital administrators say that additional beds will not help unless funding and staff levels increase (Correa, Fresno Bee, 6/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.