Long Beach Memorial ranks 13th among California hospitals for longest emergency room wait times

This article originally appeared in the Long Beach Press Telegram

LONG BEACH >> Victoria Luna started her car, leaned over to buckle her seat belt and felt a jolt as her head slammed into the windshield. The truck that swiped her car as it sped by never stopped or looked back.

The next day, her head was throbbing and sore to the touch so she went to see her primary care physician, who directed her to the Emergency Department at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center for a CT scan. More than four hours after having her vitals checked by the in-house physician, she was still sitting in the waiting room.

“It’s just horrible,” she said of the wait time. “Being here, I think my headache is just getting worse. I’m counting the minutes to get checked.”

The local hospital has the 13th longest emergency room wait times in the state, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Long Beach Memorial Medical Center’s Chief Operating Officer Tamra Kaplan said facility has seen a “fervent increase” in the number of patients per day who visit the ED over the past few years.

Up until two years ago, Long Beach Memorial, one of the largest private hospitals on the West Coast, has had a fairly stable stream of patient visits to the ED — an average of 250 per day, Kaplan said. In 2013, that number jumped to about 285 per day and since the beginning of 2014, she said, they have seen a significant increase to 300 or 310 patients per day, a roughly 20 percent jump from 2012.

She said the driving force behind the increase is a whole new patient base, which she attributes to patients who use the Emergency Department because they do not have a primary care physician, newly eligible Medicare patients and patients coming through the private exchange market under Covered California.

“Many emergency departments in Los Angeles County are feeling that impact and some of the smaller hospitals either close or limit ED services, which creates a ripple effect for some of the rest of us,” Kaplan said.

Another patient, Annie Dixon, who had been waiting for nearly two hours, was having trouble breathing as she spoke through a protective face mask. The 62-year-old said her asthma had been really bad the past few days so she came to the ED, which is something she does every three to four months.

“When I got here, they administered breathing treatments, gave me cough medicine and told me to wait,” she said.

Kaplan said that about five years ago, the hospital took measures to decrease the patient’s wait time and increase patient flow and access. Key to that was having a physician on hand in triage at all times so that patients can be assessed and their status of immediate, urgent or less than urgent can be quickly determined. The most common reasons people visit the emergency department are chest pain or cardiac symptoms, abdominal pain and sick children, officials said.

A sample of patients interviewed this week said all of them had been seen within 10 minutes to have their vitals checked, but most had been waiting a significant amount of time to be treated.

However a young couple, Bryan Figueroa, 22, and Karla Vega, 19, was seen almost immediately when they brought their 6-week-old son, Isaac, to the ED because he had been projectile vomiting.

Vega said her pediatrician referred them to Memorial because they had the resources and equipment necessary to examine Isaac.

In addition to being home to Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, Long Beach Memorial is unique because there is a family medicine primary care physician on-site at The Children’s Clinic where patients without insurance are referred after their first visit. Kaplan said this helps to reduce the number of patients who visit the ED because they do not have insurance.

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