NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2006

Between 40 and 50 percent of emergency departments experienced crowding during 2003 and 2004, raising concerns that they would not be able to handle victims during a terrorist attack or natural disaster, according to congressional testimony and a new federal study.

The crunch springs from a problem of supply and demand, say researchers:

  • The annual number of visits to emergency departments rose 18 percent, to 110 million, from 1994 to 2004.
  • At the same time, the number of hospitals operating 24-hour emergency departments declined by 12 percent.

In addition, the problem has been exacerbated by a shortage of nurses:

  • More than 5 percent of nursing staff positions were vacant at half of all emergency departments in metropolitan areas.
  • About 147,000 qualified applicants to nursing programs were turned away in 2004 because of faculty shortages.

Many experts believe that the federal government could do much more to help the situation, including:

  • Helping fund the development of a network of regional coordinated emergency care systems.
  • Designating a lead federal agency for emergency care.
  • Integrating more efficiently the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs into civilian disaster planning.

Source: Christopher Lee, "Crowded ERs Raise Concerns On Readiness," Washington Post, September 28, 2006.

For text:

For full report:


Browse more articles on Health Issues