Wait-times at sylmar's olive-view are among the highest in the state

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News

SYLMAR >> Inside one of Los Angeles County’s busiest public hospitals, patients hold their head in their hands, grasp their abdomen in pain or else sniffle in misery.

It’s a Thursday morning, and the sick who are visiting Olive View-UCLA Medical Center’s emergency department are being seen quickly, from the moment they enter and check in to the time they see a doctor.

But it’s not always so. In January, the overall wait time at Olive View from entrance to exit was as high as 8 hours, and 19 minutes. That improved in March, down to 5 hours, 30 minutes according to recent data provided by the hospital. That includes time with the physician.

Hospital officials expect those wait times to decrease as more people receive health care coverage, find a permanent medical home at community health centers to monitor chronic diseases, and the federal government funds programs to bolster preventive care. But at public hospitals such as Olive View, which serves the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, challenges remain.

“The Affordable Care Act covers most people, but not everyone,” said Dr. Scott Lundberg, clinical director at the department of emergency medicine at Olive View. “We hear that at least 1 million people (in Los Angeles) won’t be covered. We will always be their safety net.”

Health care reform as well as a fading recession has cut into the number of people who use the emergency department, said Azar Kattan, spokeswoman for Olive View.

In 2010, Olive View’s old emergency department saw 49,000 patients. In 2011, the hospital opened a $53 million, 32,000-square-foot facility with 51 treatment beds, an increase from 30 treatment rooms. At the time, hospital officials expected more patients.

But by the 2012-2013 time period, the hospital treated 58,000 patients.

“As a result of the recession we saw a huge spike,” Kattan said. “We’re now seeing a 10 percent reduction.”

While many hospitals are competing for newly insured patients by promoting short wait times, or else offering an app that can arrange online appointments into their emergency departments, Olive View’s patients come from different circumstances. Many don’t have a permanent telephone number or access to email.

Administrators installed a system to help track peak times. They discovered that at 6 a.m. on a Monday for example, several patients come in because that’s when the first bus arrives at the hospital.

“Many of our patients take the bus,” Lundberg said. “With this system, we know when to add more staff.”

Olive View was founded in 1920 as a tuberculosis sanatorium. The hospital was severely damaged in the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and remained somewhat dormant for the next several years, steering patients to an interim facility in Van Nuys.

It reopened in 1987 and has since become known as housing a high tech tuberculosis unit and a Chagas disease research and care center.

“We see a lot of patients who have no where else to go,” Lundberg said.

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