NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overcrowded Emergency Rooms

February 4, 2000

In hospitals across the country, emergency rooms are stacked with patients awaiting care. With no room available inside, ambulances frequently have to wait long periods before delivering their emergency cases for care. That, in turn, leads to a shortage of available ambulances.

Experts say the problems will only grow worse.

  • ER visits increased from 90.4 million in 1994 to 94.7 million in 1998.
  • About 500 hospitals nationwide have closed in the past decade -- and from 1993 to 1996 the number of hospital beds per 1,000 residents fell by 9 percent.
  • From 1988 to 1998, the nation lost 1,128 ERs.
  • There is a shortage of nurses -- which is due both to hospital staff cuts and fewer critical care nurses being certified.

The result is that seriously ill patients sometimes have to wait for hours before receiving care.

Various reasons are advanced to explain ER crowding. New drugs and technologies allow patients who once might have been admitted to the hospital to be treated in the ER. Uninsured patients often have nowhere else to turn. And patients who are insured resort to ERs if they fall ill at night and cannot get their doctors.

Even those who get sick during the day often find that their physicians are so booked up that they cannot get an appointment for several weeks. So ERs become the final alternative.

Source: Julie Appleby, "ER Conditions: Critical," USA Today, February 4, 2000.


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