Friday, August 31, 2007
Inside the ER during a pandemic: What you don’t see on TV
Ever been to the emergency room or had family or friends who've rushed to the hospital only to sit and wait –- sometimes for hours and hours -– before seeing a doctor? If so, then it should come as no surprise that overcrowding in emergency departments is a huge problem.
According to the Institute of Medicine, which released a series of reports this summer on the state of our country's emergency departments, emergency room visits grew by 26 percent between 1993 and 2003. During the same period, the number of emergency departments dropped by 425 and the number of hospital beds fell by 198,000. Every minute of the day, an ambulance is diverted from a crowded emergency department to one that is further away, and some people have to regularly wait as long as two days before getting needed care.
So what does the extra wait in the emergency room have to do with pandemic flu? Well, if today's routine emergencies are filling ERs to capacity, how can we cope with an additional 10 million hospitalizations that are predicted by the Department of Health and Human Services to occur during a severe pandemic flu outbreak? Everyday emergencies won't go away during a flu pandemic. Instead, our system will be more overburdened than ever before.
What can hospitals do? When preparing for the worst, it helps to have a bit of wiggle room. In the health care world, that idea is called surge capacity –- the ability of the health system to expand and adapt to the growing number of patients that can be expected during an influenza pandemic.
Just as we buy extra supplies and develop plans for home, hospitals, too, need additional resources to be able to expand their capacity to operate during a flu pandemic or other times of peak demand.
So where do you come in? You can help hospitals improve their surge capacity by contacting your elected officials and let them know you are concerned. Reach out to your local, state or congressional lawmakers and tell them that hospitals, along with the state and local health departments, need increased preparedness funding, staff and training so that they can be ready to handle the worst. Because in the end, it could be you or your family in need of that hospital bed.
Posted by Unknown at 2:12 PM