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Overcrowding at L.A. County-USC Medical Center has eased, officials say

Overcrowding remains a persistent problem at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center’s emergency room even as conditions deemed dangerous have eased in the last two months, county officials said Tuesday.

“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, county health officials told supervisors Tuesday.

Carol Meyer, the county health services department’s chief network officer, said over 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, similar to a system in place for about two years at the county’s Harbor- UCLA Medical Center emergency room.

Since August, County- USC staff reduced the number of people who left the emergency room without being seen by half, serving 400 more patients a month, according to Tuesday’s report.

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“We are using all of our acute-care beds very efficiently,” Pete Delgado, the hospital’s chief executive, told supervisors.

Federal officials had threatened to cut the hospital’s Medicare funding after a May inspection showed overcrowding delayed at least two patients’ care in the emergency room, leading one to leave without being seen by medical staff. In September, the most recent month reported, an adult seeking emergency room care faced an average wait of about 121/2 hours.

“You still have a very dangerous overcrowding situation, and you still have a wait time that is outrageous,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said Tuesday. Molina, whose district includes the hospital, called conditions at the facility east of downtown L.A. “a potential powder keg.”

She questioned why county health officials had not negotiated agreements as promised with additional private hospitals to accept transfer patients. Last month, supervisors more than doubled the amount the county pays private hospitals to accept transfer patients from County-USC from $2 million to $5 million.

Meyer said two hospital systems contacted in recent weeks balked at the county’s request. County officials are pursuing agreements with officials at two other hospital systems, she said, and expect a decision within two weeks. Meyer declined to identify any of the hospitals.

Molina and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas have requested a study of what it would take to add 150 more beds to the hospital, which the county rebuilt with 220 fewer inpatient beds two years ago.

“Overcrowding is dangerous, and it shouldn’t be happening at a brand new facility,” Molina said.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com


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