Rochester, New York: a decade of emergency department overcrowding

S Schneider, F Zwemer, A Doniger, R Dick, T Czapranski, E Davis
Academic Emergency Medicine 2001, 8 (11): 1044-50

UNLABELLED: Overcrowding is common in emergency departments (EDs) throughout the United States. The history of ED overcrowding in Rochester, New York, is notable due to its unique health care system that introduced the concepts of managed care as early as the 1950s. An effect of this system was to intentionally restrict resources and allow the issue of access to limit utilization. Overcrowding in EDs was severe in the late 1990s-2000, and became an accepted local standard of care.

OBJECTIVE: To study the strategies to reduce ED overcrowding in Rochester in the last decade.

METHODS: A descriptive analysis of individual hospital and community efforts to decrease ED overcrowding.

RESULTS: Of the strategies tried, those that had little effect on ED overcrowding were based from the ED, such as ambulance diversion. Those that were successful were those that addressed factors external to the ED such as increased flexibility of inpatient resources; float nurses who responded to acute care needs; a transition team (mid-level provider along with registered nurse (RN)/licensed practical nurse) who cared for inpatients boarded in the ED; integrated services across affiliated hospitals/systems; an early alert system that notified key personnel before "code red" criteria were met; and a multidisciplinary team to round in the ED and analyze resource needs. Current community-wide initiatives include precise tracking of code red hours; monitoring patient length of stay (LOS) in the ED and inpatient units; education of physicians and nursing homes regarding ED alternatives; exploration of additional resources for subacute and long-term care; establishing a regional forum to address the nursing shortage; development of an ED triage system to coordinate diversion activities during code red; and consideration of a county-wide state of emergency when needed.

CONCLUSIONS: Emergency department overcrowding is the end result of a variety of factors that must be addressed system-wide.

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