Fresno, Santa Rosa Officials Grapple With Rising Number of Ambulance Diversions
Fresno County health officials have asked the state health department for help with the growing number of ambulance diversions, the Fresno Bee reports. After a 10% increase last year in diversions -- instances where a hospital emergency department becomes so overcrowded that it cannot accept new patients, forcing ambulances to go to other facilities -- county hospitals in January and February saw a 45% rise in hours on divert status compared to the first two months of 2001. In February alone, more than 450 ambulance patients were diverted. Working with Dan Lynch, division director for Fresno County Emergency Medical Services, county Department of Community Health Director Gary Carozza recently sent a letter to the state Department of Health Services requesting assistance on the diversion problem. But Reba Gutierrez, Fresno district manager for the department's licensing and certification division, which is reviewing the letter, said that there likely is not much her division can do, since hospital diversion policies are usually handled on a more local level. Meanwhile, the Bee reports that some Fresno hospitals have exacerbated the situation by staying on diversion status -- which is supposed to provide "short-term relief" -- for a longer time to allow staff members to rest. The "problem has become so bad" that Lynch's office, which grants requests for diversion status, has created an enforcement program to inspect hospitals that are on diversion for more than two hours (Correa, Fresno Bee, 4/22).
In Santa Rosa, all three of the county's major hospitals were on diversion for a two-hour period on April 1, leading emergency service officials to force the hospitals to reopen their doors to ambulance patients, the Santa Rosa Press Democrats reports. Sonoma County faces a shortage of emergency beds, officials say; of the 900 beds in the county's eight hospitals, only about 10% are for emergency care. "No beds have been added in Sonoma County in the last 10 years. Our population has grown and it has aged. ... All of that impacts our ER," Sutter Medical Center spokesperson Mitch Proaps said. As a solution, county officials are discussing the creation of an urgent-care clinic that could handle patients who need treatment but do not have critical or life-threatening injuries. And as in Fresno, Santa Rosa officials are trying to ensure that hospitals divert patients only when absolutely necessary (Rose, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 4/22).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.