San Francisco Area EMS Personnel, Hospitals Brace for New Year’s Eve Celebrants

The worst injuries are typically associated with drunken driving.


ERIN ALLDAY, The San Francisco Chronicle | | Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bay Area doctors and emergency workers are bracing for what's likely to be the busiest weekend of the year.

New Year's Eve is typically loaded with alcohol-fueled deaths and injuries, and the coming celebration will probably be worse than most years because it falls on a Saturday, giving revelers a full day of partying and, presumably, a full day of recovery.

Last year, San Francisco emergency rooms saw a roughly 50 percent increase in New Year's patients from the previous year, according to estimates from local hospitals.

There were 100 more 911 calls citywide last year compared with the typical New Year's, according to the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

The increase was almost definitely due to New Year's Eve falling on a Friday night last year, officials said. Of the 650 emergency calls reported, 245 of them came between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. This year, the numbers could be even higher, emergency care experts said.

"We're already preparing to see more patients," said Dr. Malini Singh, interim medical director for San Francisco General Hospital's emergency department. "It's just a reality of New Year's Eve."

Alcohol-related Injuries

Alcohol in some years has been to blame for more than half of the maladies that send people to emergency rooms around major holidays, especially those for which drinking is a key part of the celebration.

The worst injuries are typically associated with drunken driving. But emergency room workers also expect to see bad injuries from drunken biking, or from falling over drunk and ending up with broken bones or head wounds.

The injuries that, in some ways, are the most frustrating are the simple alcohol overdoses - young people, usually, who don't know their limits and show up at the emergency room so loaded that they can't speak or stand on their own.

"I don't want people to think I'm encouraging drinking, but if you do, you have to drink responsibly," said Dr. Steven Polevoi, medical director for the UCSF emergency department.

Alcohol poisoning is typically a highly unpleasant experience - and that's not including the hangover the next day - but not usually life threatening.

Still, people who fall unconscious while drinking and cannot be roused should be taken to a hospital and observed by professionals until they wake up and are able to speak in full sentences again, or at least able to say where they live.

In large enough doses, alcohol can cause brain function to become depressed, Singh said, resulting in breathing problems. Also, patients who are unconscious but throwing up run the risk of choking on their vomit.

"In general, most intoxicated people can at least get into a cab and sober up on their own," Singh said. "But if you find someone passed out on the ground, and they're breathing shallowly and you can't rouse them, these are people who probably aren't safe to go home."

On major holidays, Singh said San Francisco General Hospital will usually set aside a space in the emergency department for patients who just need to sober up.

Impact on Other Patients

Those patients, emergency room doctors say, take up valuable space that would otherwise be used by heart attack and stroke victims, or people with life-threatening injuries or illnesses.

"If you do drink so much that you end up in the back of an ambulance, you end up in an emergency department, and that has implications for other patients," Polevoi said. "You need to be aware that your behavior has an impact not just on you."

Polevoi said he realizes that many people are going to drink on New Year's Eve, and probably a lot of them will drink to excess. He asks only that they make arrangements not to drive, and that they try to use common sense when it comes to that fourth round of vodka shots.

"You have to know your limits," Polevoi said. "Don't say you can do eight shots and four glasses of Champagne. You can't."

Copyright © 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, San Francisco, New Year's Eve, hospital

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS










Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

The Evolution of Civilian High Threat Medical Guidelines

How mass killing events have proven a need for new guidelines.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Authorities Investigate Firefighters at Arizona EMS Call

Confrontation caught on video involving Glendale firefighters.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Radio Problems for New York Medics

Medic’s radio failed during a call with an armed patient.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

AMR Prepares Ambulance for Ebola Patient

Patient preparedness in Oregon.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Oregon Department Revises EMS System

Bend brings in EMTs to meet growing demands.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Ottawa Shooting Incident

Solider is shot by gunman at national memorial in Ottawa.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Life Link III Trauma Tactics Conference in Minnesota

Conference was designed to enhance the skills of providers of all levels, covering rescue and prehospital situations, to transport and in-hospital treatment.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >