E.R. Diversion

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ER Overcrowding Hurts Minorities Most

By Durrie Lawrence

San Francisco paramedics transfer a patient into an ambulance. (Justin Beck: Flickr)

San Francisco paramedics transfer a patient into an ambulance. (Justin Beck: Flickr)

Overcrowding in California emergency rooms disproportionately affects minority populations, according to a study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. The findings shed light on flaws in the emergency care system that affect vulnerable populations, including communities of color, lead author Dr. Renee Hsia says.

Researchers used ambulance diversion rates to study overcrowding in 202 California hospitals. In ambulance diversion overtaxed hospitals alert ambulances to take patients to other emergency rooms in the surrounding area.

In short, Hsia’s team found that hospitals which served more minority patients were more likely to divert. This despite controlling for factors such as hospital ownership (nonprofit versus for-profit versus county-run) and the types of patients served. Hsia, who works as an emergency physician at San Francisco General Hospital, says this finding suggests that those hospitals are suffering a greater strain on their resources and a higher demand for emergency care. Continue reading