HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Health of U.S. Hospitals

Firedoglake posts an interesting piece on the state of our nation's hospitals and it isn't pretty.   hospitals.  Isaiah Poole writes,

What I don't get is how all of McCain's free-market fundamentalism on health care is supposed to help make sure my neighborhood hospital is up and running when I need it.

McCain didn't address the health of our nation's hospitals when he rolled out his health care plan last week. Perhaps that's because the issues are complex and many of the proposed solutions don't fit neatly into ideological lines. Perhaps it's because if he started delving into our health care infrastructure, he'd have to admit that the conservative mantra that we have "the best health care system in the world" is false.

A report this week by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee looked at just one consequence of the dysfunction in our health care delivery system.

Committee staff members surveyed hospital emergency rooms in seven major cities on one Tuesday afternoon to get a snapshot of emergency room capacity, with the goal of determining if emergency rooms in these cities were capable of handling a disaster of the scale of the March 2004 terrorist train bombing in Madrid, Spain. In that attack, 15 Madrid hospitals handled a surge of nearly 1,000 injured people.

The bottom line:

The results of the survey show that none of the hospitals surveyed in the seven cities had sufficient emergency care capacity to respond to an attack generating the number of casualties that occurred in Madrid. The Level I trauma centers surveyed had no room in their emergency rooms to treat a sudden influx of victims. They had virtually no free intensive care unit beds within their hospital complex. And they did not have enough regular inpatient beds to handle the less severely injured victims. The shortage of capacity was particularly acute in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Almost 60 percent of the hospital emergency rooms surveyed were operating above capacity at the time of the survey. The closest hospital to my home, Washington Hospital Center, happened to be "the single most overcrowded hospital surveyed." Its emergency room was already operating at 286 percent of capacity at the time of the survey.

In essence, this survey doesn't tell us anything that especially those of us who live in big cities don't already know: Our hospital system is badly strained on a calm day. And if that's the case, God help us if any sort of major disaster hits. . . .

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