Flunk that report card

Do Washington state residents have some of the worst access to emergency medical care in all of America? That’s what a reputable organization would have you believe. The American College of Emergency Physicians issued what they call a “report card” on the 50 states. They rank Washington at the very bottom when it comes to availability of hospital beds and psychiatric beds, and near the bottom in the availability of registered nurses.

But, the state Department of Health has no evidence of such a severe shortage. Spokesman Donn Moyer asked the various data-crunchers within the agency, and they concluded, “This isn’t how we would quantify access to care.” He says they can’t understand why the Emergency Physicians would measure hospital beds “per capita,” because that’s not a method that’s typically used in the world of public health.

What does this mean?

(a) there’s a hidden crisis brewing in Washington, unseen by our officials, with people getting turned away in growing numbers as they seek hospital care

(b) having fewer hospital beds in your state does not automatically translate into lack of access to care by people who live in that state

(c) an interest group has created a report that – surprise – serves the interest of its members (by advocating for more spending on hospitals and medical staff)

I would go with both (b) and (c). To believe (a), you’d have to think everyone at hospitals and in the emergency medical system is keeping quiet about a major problem, which is worse here than the rest of the country. And, they only decide to speak up when ACEP releases its bi-annual report.

Do “diversions” happen, when an Emergency Room is full, and a patient is sent to an E.R. that’s not necessarily the closest? Yes, but that also might be a sign that we’re using the medical system efficiently. What do you think?

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