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County-USC's emergency room deemed 'dangerously overcrowded' [Updated]

June 22, 2010 |  2:26 pm

County-uscThe emergency room at County-USC Medical Center was “dangerously overcrowded” for more than 10% of the month of May, according to a regular report submitted Tuesday to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The overcrowding -- up from less than 2% of the time April -- drew a sharp rebuke from Supervisor Gloria Molina.

“I think we’re having a real problem. This is a serious situation,” said Molina, whose district includes County-USC, just east of downtown in Boyle Heights.

The overcrowding is not the first experienced at County-USC since it moved into a new, smaller facility in November 2008.

The $1.02-billion hospital has a bigger emergency room with 40% more beds, but 25% fewer beds for patients admitted to the hospital.

While the old hospital could admit as many as 824 patients, the  new facility has a maximum capacity of 600 patients, which critics said was not enough to serve the demand for public hospital services.

Between December 2008 and April 2009, and again in October 2009, the emergency room was found to be dangerously overcrowded by county standards for more than 10% of the time.

Carol Meyer, the health services department’s chief network officer, said that the number of admissions to County-USC’s emergency room has been steady. The difference, however, is that the patients are coming in sicker, she said, requiring more time to treat them. Severely sick patients cannot be transferred to other hospitals, Meyer said, until they are stabilized.

In May, county health officials received a complaint from an emergency room patient who said she left County-USC’s emergency room without seeing a doctor after more than eight hours.

County officials said the average waiting time at County-USC’s emergency room is nine hours, and disputed the accuracy of her complaint. [Updated at 9:15 p.m.: In the complaint, the woman said a nurse told her the average wait time at County-USC's emergency room was 35 hours.]

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photo: The new County-USC Medical Center opened in December 2008. Credit: Brian van der Brug  / Los Angeles Times