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State's Emergency Rooms Get Bad Grades for Access

Deborah Wang
12/10/2008

Washington gets a failing grade when it comes to access to the state's emergency rooms. That's according to a new report card issued by the American College of Emergency Physicians. KUOW'S Deborah Wang reports.

TRANSCRIPT

THE STATE SCORED AN "A+" WHEN IT COMES TO QUALITY AND PATIENT SAFETY, RANKING IT NUMBER ONE IN THE COUNTRY. BUT IT SCORED AN "F" WHEN IT COMES TO ACCESS TO EMERGENCY CARE.

THE REPORT SAYS THE STATE SUFFERS FROM A CRITICAL SHORTAGE OF INPATIENT, PSYCHIATRIC, AND INTENSIVE CARE UNIT BEDS PER CAPITA. IT ALSO POINTS TO A SHORTAGE OF EMERGENCY ROOMS AND TRAUMA CENTERS IN THE STATE.

MILNE: "We are functioning as a system right on the very brink of disaster almost on a daily basis."

DR. JOHN MILNE IS THE SUPERVISING EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN AT SEATTLE'S SWEDISH HOSPITAL. HE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF EMERGENCY PHYSICIANS, WHICH PRODUCED THE REPORT.

MILNE: "Emergency services and hospital inpatient capacity is something the community assumes is there, it's an essential public service in the same way police and fire protection are there. But realistically on a daily basis here in King County oftentimes hospitals are on diversion because their ICU's are full their inpatient beds are full, we are oftentimes having to call around the entire city to try to find an ICU bed for one of our patients."

DR. MILNE FEARS EMERGENCY ROOMS DO NOT HAVE THE SURGE CAPACITY TO DEAL WITH A MAJOR CRISIS LIKE A FLU PANDEMIC OR OTHER NATURAL DISASTER.

THE REASON FOR THE SHORTAGE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES IS COMPLEX. DR. MILNE BLAMES A RAPIDLY GROWING POPULATION AND STATE REGULATIONS THAT TIGHTLY CONTROL HOSPITAL CAPACITY.

BUT CASSIE SAUER OF THE WASHINGTON STATE HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION SEES A DIFFERENT REASON. SHE SAYS FOR THE MOST PART THERE ARE ENOUGH BEDS IN THE SYSTEM. THE PROBLEM, SHE SAYS, IS THAT EMERGENCY ROOMS ARE BEING USED MORE AND MORE AS A DUMPING GROUND FOR THE MENTALLY ILL.

SAUER: "A police officer might find someone who appears to have a mental illness there could be someone who appears drunk on the streets, and emergency rooms are not equipped to be mental health hospitals and there are not enough beds in the state."

SAUER SAYS THE SHORTAGE OF PSYCHIATRIC FACILITIES IS LIKELY TO WORSEN WITH ANTICIPATED STATE BUDGET CUTS.

DESPITE THE PROBLEMS, WASHINGTON STILL RANKED BETTER THAN AVERAGE OVERALL IN THE REPORT CARD. THE STATE RECEIVED A GRADE OF "C," WHEREAS THE NATIONAL AVERAGE WAS A "C–." I'M DEBORAH WANG, KUOW NEWS.

© Copyright 2008, KUOW

07.17.18

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