Opinion: ER Waits Are Way Too Long

St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where a 30 year old man was found dead in the ER after a wait of several hours last January (Photo by Eduardo Villagrán Morales, Creative Commons license)

St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where a 30-year-old man was found dead in the ER after a wait of several hours last January. (Photo by Eduardo Villagrán Morales, Creative Commons license)

For the past couple of years, hospitals in Brooklyn have been struggling to survive. Long Island College Hospital recently inked a deal with a suitor to restore emergency services and admissions, Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant is emerging from bankruptcy, and Wyckoff Medical Center in Bushwick is struggling to remain open.

Ensuring that communities that have always been underserved medically retain much-needed services is an important goal for legislators and state officials. What officials may need to do, though, is focus on just how these facilities are operating, and try to improve that.

Numerous complaints have been made about long ER waits to see a doctor, negligence in emergency rooms and even the demeanor and attitude of the hospital staff. One might argue that residents of the communities pay too much in taxes to not be treated as valued patients and that the way patients are handled is simply unprofessional and unjust.

As a Brooklyn resident, I’ve experienced firsthand the way these doctor visits work – both in emergency rooms, and in clinic waiting rooms. I’ve made appointments, arrived on time and still had to wait hours beyond my initial appointment time. I’ve sat in the waiting room for nearly three hours and have witnessed people who arrived after me get seen and treated before me.

Although it is understood that many patients need immediate medical attention and that a doctor’s office or emergency room can get very hectic, very quickly, why is it that there often seems no rhyme or reason as to who is treated, when and in what manner?

The fact is that the consequences of tolerating a chaotic emergency medical system can be dire.

Last January 26 at about 10 p.m., 30-year-old John Verrier went to the emergency room at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx for a rash. After waiting for eight hours for medical attention, Verrier was found dead at 6:40 a.m. the following day in the waiting room. In response to Verrier’s unfortunate death, an employee at St. Barnabas claimed the hospital was understaffed and that the staff could not attend to all the patients they receive in one day.

Some years earlier, on June 19, 2008, 49-year-old Esmin Green was said to have been waiting at the Kings County Hospital Psychiatric Emergency Room for medical attention. After waiting for about 24 hours, Green toppled over in her seat and died. Surveillance video shows hospital security and other patients walking near Green, unconcerned that she was face down on the ground. According to reports, it was not until an hour later that someone took heed and called for help. By then, it was too late – Green had died waiting.

In both cases, the families of the deceased have filed civil lawsuits against the hospitals and have called on officials to look into the long waits at hospitals and, more importantly, long waits in the emergency room.

But these are only the most egregious instances of poor medical care. What about all of the other unreported incidents, in which sick and even elderly people have no choice but to endure the wait?

If being understaffed is really the issue, why aren’t there more opportunities available in these facilities? If negligence is the problem, why aren’t evaluations and assessments of hospital staff being conducted on a regular basis to ensure patients are being treated properly?

According to a ProPublica report, at 18 hospitals in New York City patients must wait one hour or longer to be seen by a doctor. That is certainly a long time considering the patient may be in agonizing pain.

Of course accidents can happen. But a consistent pattern of delay and neglect at area hospitals demand attention. It may be a problem that will only get worse if action isn’t taken.

Amelia Rawlins is a freelance journalist in New York. 

This article was written as part of the Covering NYC: Political Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and funded by a grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

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