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Flu Brings ER Overcrowding to Light

CHICAGO -- As influenza wreaks havoc on the American public, emergency departments nationwide are seeing the full effect of the influenza crisis.

Wait times to receive emergency medical care have increased substantially, and many emergency departments' waiting rooms are standing room only.

Unfortunately the widespread illness brought by this influenza season has also brought to light the issue of emergency department overcrowding affecting the ability of hospitals to provide medical care.

Instead of a transient influx of influenza patients, many hospitals throughout this country are forced to juggle far too many patients on a regular basis, resulting in ambulance diversions, hallways packed with patients and increased waiting times for inpatient hospital beds.

Some patients wait days in an emergency department before receiving an inpatient bed or being transferred to another facility.

Emergency departments are America's health-care safety net, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing medical care to patients from all walks of life young and old, rich and poor, insured and uninsured.

This safety net has become badly frayed, yet each day it is being strained by more patients.

Without sufficient resources, the health of any patient needing this safety net is put at risk.

State and federal lawmakers, including this nation's presidential candidates, must address America's escalating emergency department crisis with substantive, coordinated, systemwide health-care reform solutions.

Whether it is an earthquake, a building collapse, a marathon in the heat or the Avian flu, it is a question of when, not if, the next public health crisis will arrive.

We should take this influenza epidemic as a cue.

Assuring that adequate resources are available for emergency medical care may seem unimportant until you're the one having the emergency.

William Sullivan, DO, is president of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians.

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