Hospitals sound alarm over crowded ERs

February 2, 2009 5:28:56 PM PST
With the cutbacks at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, emergency rooms in other areas of town have been swamped with people in need.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Some people we talked to say they had to wait up to five hours before seeing a doctor. Emergency room doctors say more help is needed.

At Memorial Hermann Hospital, doctors say the ER has been at capacity every day since Hurricane Ike. That's in part because this is a Level 1 trauma center served by Life Flight, but ERs across the greater Houston area are now seeing demand like they've never seen before.

Although UTMB has now reopened the emergency room at its hospital, it is only operating in a limited capacity. Hospital officials say the most serious patients are rushed elsewhere for treatment. That's exacerbated a critical situation at already overcrowded emergency rooms across the greater Houston area.

Angela Taylor's boyfriend came to the Mainland Medical Center after cutting his head and dislocating his shoulder in a fight. She can't say exactly how long they waited for treatment.

"I'm very impatient," she told us. "[We waited] about four or five hours."

Barbara Orem has had uncontrollable blood pressure since Friday. Since she'd waited previously at a hospital for seven hours, she was trying to avoid the ER.

"You don't want to come over here when you feel bad and sit all that time," Orem said.

Mainland Hospital tells us ER traffic is up 40% since UTMB scaled back services. Memorial Hermann Hospital says its numbers have increased at least 25%. At the Clear Lake Regional Hospital, ER patient load is up 20%.

"I think there is an overcrowding problem in every single emergency department in the whole Houston area," said Dr. Tim Seay with the Greater Houston Emergency Physicians.

At Memorial Hermann, doctors say this is a symptom of a much larger patient care problem due to the lack of Level 1 trauma facilities around the Houston area. Without UTMB, there are only two and there are no concrete plans in the works to build another.

"The problem is, we don't have anyone standing up saying I want to do it," said Dr. James McCarthy with Memorial Hermann.

So without enough trauma 1 space, level 2 and 3 facilities bear a larger burden treating the more seriously wounded as patients are diverted there.

UTMB says it hopes to have its ER facility back up to speed later this year.

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