Schwarzenegger gets bill to monitor ER overcrowding

The Sacramento BeeOctober 7, 2009 

With more people using emergency rooms as their primary source for medical care, ER physicians are urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill aimed at easing overcrowding in the place of last resort for the uninsured and medically indigent.

"There is a crowding crisis in emergency medicine right now," said Peter Sokolove, an emergency room physician at the UC Davis Medical Center and a board member of the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, which pushed for passage of Assembly Bill 911.

The recession has added urgency to the issue. Emergency room visits surged by 12 percent in the capital region during the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to data filed with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The legislation, by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, would set protocols to deal with overcrowding. It would establish a measurement system -- based on the number of people in an emergency waiting room, how many beds are available, and how quickly patients are seen, among other variables.

The measure won easy passage in the Assembly and Senate, but its fate is uncertain. It is among hundreds of bills awaiting the governor's consideration as the Sunday deadline to sign or veto bills approaches.

The California Department of Public Health opposed the legislation, saying in a June letter to the measure's author that the agency "does not believe there is sufficient evidence to show that this bill will have any impact on improving emergency room overcrowding."

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