San Diego County health officials called attention Friday to growing congestion in hospital emergency rooms and pleaded with residents to use non-emergency treatment options.
“The local emergency medical services system has reached a critical tipping point,” said Dimitrios Alexiou, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
In the past decade, the number of emergency room visits has increased by 40 percent, while San Diego County’s population grew by 7 percent. During this same period, 53 percent of ER visits were for non-emergencies.
“Emergency room overuse is a national problem that is also occurring in San Diego County,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, County Public Health Officer. “There are a number of factors driving the congestion in emergency rooms, but the results may be longer wait times and overcrowding.”
Officials recommended three steps to help ease the pressure on emergency rooms:
- Use non-emergency medical care, including urgent care and community clinics
- Visit a primary care provider
- Plan ahead for non-emergency medical situations
The crowding at emergency rooms has a domino effect on other county services.
“Emergency room overcrowding has effects outside the hospital,” said Don Butz, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs’ Association. “It can result in ambulances being backed up and unavailable for longer periods before they are able to respond to future calls.”
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