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Emergency Room Overcrowding Can Be Fatal for Minorities

For many minorities living in an overpopulated neighborhood can be fatal to  one's health.

Not only are many hospitals in highly populated minority neighborhoods  lacking in the number of emergency services, but also ambulance diversion is  another important factor which can affect one's health. Ambulance diversion  occurs when a hospital's emergency department is too busy to accept any new  patients. Ambulances are then rerouted to the next available emergency  department.

"If you pass by a closer hospital that is on diversion for a hospital 15  minutes down the road, you are increasing the amount of time the patient is in a  compromised situation," Hsia said. "It puts these patients at higher risk for  bad health outcomes from conditions like heart attacks or stroke, where minutes  could mean the difference between life and death.''

The research assessed 202 California hospitals in 20 different counties.  These emergency departments allowed ambulance diversion, and were critical,  non-federal hospitals operating in 2007. Pediatric and county hospitals were  excluded from the study.

The data obtained displayed 92 percent of the hospitals allowed ambulance  diversion for an average of 347 hours throughout the course of the year. Of  those hospitals who serve a high population of minorities, were on ambulance  diversion for 306 hours, whereas neighborhood with a smaller quantity of  minorities were on ambulance diversion for 75 hours.

"Because ambulances typically transport patients needing true emergency care,  diversion reroutes the neediest patients away from their nearest hospital,  representing a failure of the systems to provide the intended care,'' the  authors wrote.

However, data did reveal ambulance diversion did not apply to certain  injuries such as trauma patients.

According to Hsia, emergency departments and trauma centers are closing  down--too often-- in areas that need it the most. Hsia and her colleagues  recommend a systemic reform that includes better management of hospital flow and  statewide principles regulating diversion policies.

Source: Medical Daily at

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