Emergency Room patients in eastern Los Angeles County face long waits
This article originally appeared in the Pasadena Star News
The average emergency room patient in eastern Los Angeles County waits at least two hours more than others in the state and nation, according to a report from the California Healthcare Foundation.
The longest waits occur at the region’s two trauma centers, L.A. County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles and Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, where staffs deal with gunshot wounds and critical crash victims on top of broken legs and illnesses. It takes between four and six hours from arrival to discharge at those two facilities, according to the foundation.
“It’s too long, but we’re always working on reducing that,” said Dr. Edward Newton, County-USC’s emergency department chairman. “There has been some innovations that have helped us reduce the total length of time, even though it is still unacceptably high, it is improved.”
County-USC’s wait times actually decreased over the past five years, Newton said, but he hopes changes to the back end — how patients are checked in, registered and chosen for treatment — will cut it further in the next several months. Partnerships with other healthcare providers, particularly for psychiatric patients which can take up an emergency room bed for days, also help reduce wait times overall.
The medical center has seen an increased amount of emergency room visits for patients with psychiatric issues, spurred partially by a migration of transients pushed out of the downtown by clean-up efforts and a lack of mental health services in the area, Newton said.
“There are ways for us to get patients into the system faster and more efficiently, but it’s really about finding places to send them,” he said.
At Huntington and County-USC, a person might not see a health professional for about an hour. The problem is one of volume, hospital officials said. County-USC sees about 500 patients per day, but only has about 130 beds in the emergency department. The department focuses on more serious ailments first and works its way down to lesser problems, meaning someone waiting with a broken limb will get jumped in line by someone having a heart attack.
The wait times at east Los Angeles County hospitals dramatically increased if a doctor decided a patient needs to stay at the hospital. It could take nearly 11 hours before admission at USC and another three hours before a room was available. Last year, between 6 and 10 percent of patients left the two hospitals without ever seeing a physician, according to statistics obtained from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Like USC, Huntington hopes to slash its wait time. The hospital doubled the capacity of its emergency room this past summer. With about 90,000 patients annually, a room designed to treat 30,000 people per year no longer cut it, said Eileen Neuwirth, a spokesperson for the hospital. The emergency room went from 20 beds to 50. The hospital saw a uptick in E.R. visits when Pasadena’s only other emergency room, at St. Luke Medical Center, closed in 2002.
“We hope to see some decreased wait times, but we will always treat patients in terms of the severity of their needs, which is why wait times in emergency rooms are unpredictable,” she said.
Not all patients face extreme waits. Patients at PIH Health in Whittier spent about 3 hours and 40 minutes in the emergency room, but most saw a health professional within 14 minutes. PIH Health stayed close to or below the typical time a Californian waits in an emergency room and noted in a statement that it is “continually well below the California and National average” for the time it takes to see a healthcare professional. Officials did not comment on the hospitals longer than average overall wait time, which exceeded the state average by an hour.