Does ER still mean Emergency Room? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Does ER still mean Emergency Room?

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April 7, 2006

Albany -- If you've been to a hospital emergency room, you know it's no day at the beach. Doctors says the average patient can wait up to four hours and longer just to seek medical attention.

They say people with non-emergencies are filling up emergency waiting rooms. So what can be done?

A trip to the ER used to be for emergencies only, but not anymore. "There's no relief in sight. It's bad," said Palmyra Doctor Dr. Gregory Walter.

In his 25 years of working in the ER, Dr. Walter has seen it all. "Recently somebody took an ambulance for the emergency room for loose toe nails."

And it's those non-emergencies that are clogging up the ER, causing not only frustration among doctors. "Sometimes you just shake your head," the doctor says.

It's also frustrating for patients like Tod Brasswell. "A lot of folks say 'Well, I'm sicker than this person, or I got here before this person did.'"

Brasswell oversees the daily operations inside Phoebe's ER, and says there's a reason hospitals stay busy. "This is the only access a lot of people have to health care. They don't have regular doctors. Some of them don't have insurance."

"That has basically overwhelmed the system. And the cost gets past down to whomever," said Dr. Walter.

So hospitals in Albany are doing something about the problem. "We try to redirect them so that we keep emergency patients going into to one area, non emergency patients going into another area," Brasswell said.

In 1996, Phoebe began construction of urgent care facilities to relieve much of the overcrowding in its emergency room. "We've saved roughly $13 million annually by having convenient cares," says Phoebe's Jackie Ryan.

Palymra doctors try to treat patients with serious injuries first. "We try to make sure that people that really need our services get our services quickly," said Dr. Walter.

He has worked in more than 60 hospitals and says things are even worse elsewhere. "Out of all the emergency rooms I've worked in my career, this is probably the fastest turnaround time of any place I've seen."

And that's good news to patients who depend on the two hospitals for their services.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says more than 100 million Americans receive ER care, up 600% since 1958.

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