Congressional Quarterly: ERs are “Biggest Crisis in American Healthcare”

Congress hears from those who prepared last June’s IOM report on the impending ED disaster:

June 22, 2007 – 7:24 p.m.

Emergency Rooms Labeled ‘Biggest Crisis in American Health Care’

Physicians told a House hearing Friday that the nation’s emergency medical care departments are overwhelmed, understaffed, underfunded and unready to take on the type of patient surge that could come with a major natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Despite numerous reports highlighting conditions such as patients being boarded in ER departments waiting for rooms elsewhere in the hospital or ambulances diverted to other facilities — creating treatment delays that have led to patients’ deaths — federal agencies charged with overseeing the nation’s emergency health care system have done little to ease the burden, witnesses told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“While the demands on emergency and trauma care have grown dramatically, the capacity to handle such demands has not kept pace,” said C. William Schwab, who heads the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center’s Trauma and Surgical Division. Schwab, who helped compile the Institute of Medicine’s report released last June detailing key problems with ER departments and recommendations to fix them, noted that there has been little response from Washington.

Read the whole article to get the flavor. The good news? At least one congressman is ticked at HHS for not acting strongly enough:

Committee member

Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who chaired the hearing, said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “appears to be ignoring the mounting emergency care crisis” despite the billions of dollars Congress has appropriated for biodefense and pandemic preparedness. Witnesses said the funding had not relieved any of the burdens in their emergency care departments, and Cummings said HHS has “not made a serious effort to identify the scope of the problem and which communities are most affected.” Cummings was clearly irritated that Leslie Norwalk, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, did not accept the committee’s June 14 invitation to testify at the hearing. Of the 115 million emergency room visits in 2005, more than 40 percent were covered by CMS programs such as Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Read the rest for the denoument (Warning: mentions Rep. Henry Waxman). So, Congress is awakening to the idea that the ED’s are being over-run. Most likely that’s good news.