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Everyone remembers how tirelessly the doctors and staff of New Orleans' emergency-care centers worked to save lives during Hurricane Katrina. Now they face the challenge of severe overcrowding and closures. Before the storm devastated the Gulf Coast, there were more than 16 acute-care hospitals serving 1.4 million residents in the New Orleans region. One year later there are just nine centers to care for the area's estimated 1 million people. "We are taking care of more patients with fewer doctors and fewer beds," says Joseph Guarisco, MD, chairman of emergency medicine at Ochsner Health System, in New Orleans. "Patients are not getting the same quality of service."
Sadly, the shortage of emergency care is not unique to the Big Easy. Since last October, when Ladies' Home Journal first covered the crisis facing emergency rooms, ERs have continued to close throughout the country, and experts expect conditions will worsen. In a 2004 American Hospital Association study, more than half of all emergency departments reported being at or over capacity. In the past year about half of all ERs reported refusing ambulance patients owing to overcrowding, a practice called ambulance diversion in which drivers are forced to find other ERs for their patients. "If we have to turn down patients who need to get to an operating room quickly, they could die," says David Seaberg, MD, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Florida, in Gainesville.
Since about two of every five Americans seek treatment at an ER every year, overcrowding and diversion could keep your family from getting the care they need when they need it most. You can help protect America's access to emergency-room care by signing our petition. Thousands have already done so, but we need more signatures to get the attention of lawmakers. Mail the following to Ladies' Home Journal ER Petition, 125 Park Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10017, or complete the process online at www.lhj.com/petition.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2006.