Crowded Emergency Rooms at Almost Half of U.S. Hospitals

Almost two-thirds of metropolitan emergency departments crowded at least some of the time

THURSDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Increased demand means that almost half of all U.S. emergency departments are overcrowded, with the problem affecting almost two-thirds of the emergency departments in metropolitan areas, according to a report published Sept. 27 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Catherine W. Burt, Ed.D., and Linda F. McCaig, M.P.H., of the CDC's Division of Heath Care Statistics in Hyattsville, Md., analyzed data from the 2003-2004 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which included data from 467 hospitals representing an annual average of 4,500 emergency departments across the country.

More than 50 percent of emergency departments saw under 20,000 patients a year, but 10 percent saw more than 50,000 patients a year. Expansion had been completed within the previous two years in 16.1 percent of emergency departments, and approximately one-third planned to expand in the coming two years, but approximately 12 percent of emergency departments in metropolitan areas spent between 5 percent and 19 percent of the time in diversion status because of capacity constraints.

The report also covered staffing issues, with half of the metropolitan emergency departments reporting more than 5 percent vacant nursing positions. On-call plastic and hand surgeons were also in short supply in half of the hospitals surveyed.

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