The cause of ER crowding

    City Council in Philadelphia is investigating why medical staff overlooked a man who died and was robbed in the emergency room at Aria Health.

    Philadelphia City Council is trying to find out why Joaquin Rivera died while waiting for care in an emergency room. Hospital staff failed to notice his body for 50 minutes, even as he was robbed. From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens why ER wait times are getting longer.

    (Photo: Jefferson Hospital’s ER / Todd Vachon)


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    In recent years, visits to the emergency room have gone up while the actual number of emergency rooms has gone down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the typical wait time in the ER in the US is 31 minutes.

    Russ Harris is the vice chief of emergency medicine at Our Lady of Lourdes in Camden and he’s a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University.

    He says some people clog up the ER for non-emergencies, but that’s not the biggest issue.

    Harris: The greatest challenge for us in emergency medicine is not caring for the minor things, that’s relatively easy that only takes minutes. It’s really the sicker folks getting them to their inpatient bed which creates our greatest capacity problem.

    Harris says after people are treated in the ER they can wait there up to ten more hours before a hospital bed opens up so they can be admitted. That hold up just makes people in the waiting room wait even longer.

    Thomas Getzen is a professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He says the Philadelphia region probably has enough emergency room capacity, but ERs are misused and underpaid for services.

    Getzen: If you don’t have people paying the bills, you’re scrambling. Frankly it’s, in the inner city particularly, there are a number of people who are not adept at dealing with modern society.

    Getzen says emergency rooms end up serving as the safety net for people who would be more appropriately cared for at a health clinic, psychiatric office, or long term care setting.

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