Growth Outpaces Emergency Department Capacity in Kern County
Kern County is roughly one to two years ahead of most areas with regard to growth exceeding the area's ED capacity, according to some estimates, the Bakersfield Californian reports. A nursing shortage, an increase in the number of uninsured patients relying on EDs for primary care, and closures and cutbacks have contributed to ED capacity issues at hospitals in Kern County.
A growing shortage of critical care beds and nurses is expected to affect local hospitals during the flu and holiday season, but Kern Medical Center already is experiencing capacity issues. In June, KMC's ED was closed to all nontrauma ambulances, turning away 45% of ambulances, according to the county Emergency Medical Services. In April and May, KMC's ED was on divert status 5% of the time.
Other local EDs, such as Mercy Hospital and San Joaquin Community Hospital, have been operating at or above capacity for most of the year, diverting patients for at least an hour this year.
According to CDC, the number of hospital EDs has decreased by 14% nationwide, yet visits reached a record high of nearly 114 million in 2003.
Gail Green, vice president of nursing at San Joaquin Community, said, "The people that are truly emergent are being bottlenecked by those people that are using the emergency room for primary care," adding, "Our challenge is to find ways in Kern County to find primary health care outside of the emergency room" (Behziz, Bakersfield Californian, 8/16).