Local News

Hospital Staffs Face Overcrowding At Emergency Rooms Nationwide

Posted May 23, 2002 10:43 a.m. EDT

— Emergency rooms at Duke University Medical Center are federally mandated to care for everyone who walks through the door regardless of their ability to pay, but health care professionals at the facility as well as other emergency rooms are reaching a critical point. They say the number of patients is multiplying.

By midmorning, the staff at Duke University Medical Center is already moving at a frantic pace.

"We are busy. There are times when we don't know where we're going to put the next patient that walks through the door," said Dr. Kathleen Clem, chief of emergency medicine at the hospital.

Doctors, nurses and emergency personnel are experiencing the same crisis that is being felt nationwide -- the overcrowding of emergency rooms.

"It's just crammed full of patients. There were patients in every hall, every gurney, every stretcher you could have," Clem said.

"Visitors trying to get to their family members, expectations, fear, frustration -- [It's] all very high," said Kathleen Finch, director of clinical operations.

The hospital staff said part of the problem is poor access to health care.

"Many people are uninsured and it's not necessarily people who aren't working. These are the working poor who are working very hard and can't afford health insurance," Clem said.

When they get sick, they end up in the emergency room. Duke Medical Center's Emergency Department sees an average of 180 patients a day -- patients who often end up waiting their turn to get the health care they need.

The U.S. market for health care insurance grew from $60.5 billion in 1999 to $62 billion in 2000.