Overcrowding persists at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center's emergency room, but hospital officials have improved how they manage the crowds, decreasing patient wait times and the number of patients who leave without being seen, according to county officials.
The average wait time decreased from 11 hours and 10 minutes in September to 10 hours and 20 minutes in October, county health officials wrote in a report submitted Tuesday to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The decrease in wait times was for both adults and children.
About 3% of patients left the emergency room without being seen last month compared to about 6% in September, the lowest percentage since the hospital was rebuilt two years ago with 220 fewer inpatient beds.
The emergency room also saw slight reductions in the number of patients transferred to other county and private hospitals due to crowding.
"Dangerously" overcrowded conditions in the 600-bed hospital's emergency room decreased to an average of about five hours a day in October, down from a high of 16 hours a day in August.
Federal officials had threatened to cut the hospital's Medicare funding after an inspection in May showed that overcrowding delayed at least two patients' care in the emergency room; one left without being seen by the medical staff.
During the last two months, the hospital built a "rapid early medical evaluation" area in the emergency room so that every patient sees a doctor or nurse within an hour of arrival. A similar system has been in place for about two years at the county's Harbor-UCLA Medical Center emergency room.
County-USC "continues to have a high volume of patients, but has made significant improvements in wait times through the rapid evaluation system," said Carol Meyer, the county health department's chief network officer.
County health officials were also pursuing agreements this week that would allow them to transfer patients from County-USC to two private hospital systems, Meyer said.
Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas have requested a study of what it would take to add 150 additional beds to the hospital, and health department officials have supplied some preliminary information to the county's Department of Public Works, Meyer said.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has requested a report on the average cost per bed at each of the county's four hospitals. That report is expected by the end of this month, Meyer said.