Report - VA Medical Center emergency room excessive wait times

The wait times at some hospital emergency rooms have been notoriously long. Triage nurses work diligently to try to determine which patients require immediate attention for possible life-saving treatment, while other patients can wait several hours to be seen by medical staff. However, our Kentucky readers may be interested in a report about the Baltimore VA Medical Center in which some patients waited more than six hours for treatment and others, more than 22 hours.

The report, completed by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general's office, highlighted the shortcomings in the staffing of nurses and doctors, as well as bed shortages. Patients were sampled as to how long they waited to receive care, and more than half had waited over six hours. One woman, 59, whose complaint was a "racing and pounding heartbeat," waited over 24 hours before she was finally admitted to the hospital. In another instance, a man, 52, had expressed his suicidal tendencies and waited for 22 hours before he was taken to another hospital.

Another area of concern was that many of the patients were denied privacy because they were being examined in the triage area of the emergency room. There weren't enough beds available in the emergency room to handle the number of patients.

According to the inspection report, the sampling consisted of 20 patients. Nine of those patients waited six hours; six waited more than 20 hours. The average time was just under eight hours.

The hospital leaders said that improvements have been made, such as increased staffing and the addition of more beds. There have also been improvements in the way the hospital handles its on-call systems. While there were no reports of emergency room negligence in terms of "patients suffering adverse events," the reports said that the staff was frustrated because they were not able to provide the level of quality care that the patients deserved.

When people seek care at an emergency room, they expect to be seen within a reasonable period of time. While the amount of time will vary based upon medical complaint, it would seem that 24 hours is quite excessive. Medical malpractice or hospital negligence cases could be filed if someone's injury or illness was worsened as a result of an inappropriate wait time in an emergency room.

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