Crowding reported here, across U.S.

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2002

[04/10/02]A new study says almost all hospitals are experiencing crowded emergency rooms and here, River Region Medical Center reports a team is working to try to speed things up.

According to an American Hospital Association report released Monday, waiting averages vary in multiple categories, but can be up to one hour, for example, to get an ER bed in larger urban hospitals.

Keith Mason, chief nurse officer for River Region, said there’s no point in defining an average waiting time since ER patients are ranked or “triaged” according to need. Gunshot victims, for example, have no wait, but depending on flow, it might take hours for a person with an earache to see a doctor.

When River Region opened on U.S. 61 North, its one, large ER replaced two that had been in operation at ParkView and Vicksburg medical centers.

Mason said the new team is in place “to try to improve the ER process to expedite the flow of patients.”

Logging information is part of that process. “We are monitoring how long it takes to get from one ER unit to the next,” he said. Overall, the average ER in-and-out time at River Region is two and a half hours.

Mason said the team, which meets every 30 days, is made up of a cross-section of hospital employees. One change will be trying to make the waiting room time easier by adding more televisions, for example. The new ER waiting room also includes a children’s play room.

Mason said River Region ER has been receiving 80 to 100 patients per day, down from earlier averages of 130 to 140 people per day.

“Waiting in an emergency room in any hospital is typical,” said Diane Gawronski, director of marketing and public relations at River Region. “The problem is people’s perception of the wait.”

Gawronski said some patients may bring several people with them to the emergency room, and other patients who see the crowds often think they are in line behind them. She said another false perception is some patients in the walk-in waiting room may feel the ER staff is simply not paying attention to them or their needs.

“What they don’t see is the people streaming through the ambulance entrance,” said Gawronski, adding that many patients forget the ER has two entrances.

Mason said because patients are seen according to severity of their condition, many patients have become upset because another was treated before them.

“The waiting room is never first-come, first-served ever,” said Gawronski.

The River Region ER has 27 treatment rooms with a specially equipped three-room cardiac unit and two-room trauma unit. The waiting area seats 37.

The AHA survey results also said one in three hospitals is so crowded that ambulances are sometimes diverted to other hospitals. But even though River Region ER has experienced delays, Mason said patients have never had to be turned away because of lack of space. The nearest alternate ERs are in Hinds County, at least 40 minutes away.

Mason said another factor increasing wait time is that the ER is a holding area for people awaiting hospital admission. And Gawronski said many times crowding and long waits are due to people not understanding the role of emergency medicine, regarding the facility as an outpatient clinic.