Emergency room wait times: how long is too long?

Emergency room wait times: how long is too long?
By: CJ Cassidy

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - It's a problem many of you have probably encountered at one point or another; a lengthy wait in the emergency room.
It's become more of an issue in recent days after a California woman's agonizing death on the floor of the emergency room at a Los Angeles Hospital.
Investigators say the woman's boyfriend and other patients begged for help, but no one listened, even when she vomited blood.
So how do emergency rooms stack up here at home?
Deborah Moore said it varies.  She switched hospitals, looking for help at St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau after she spent six hours waiting to see a doctor at the last ER she visited.
"At the time I took one of my children - he was having an asthma attack and I ended up having to call his grandma who worked at the hospital to come help me," she said.
Of course, Moore and other patients don't mind waiting to let someone with more serious problems go ahead of them.
"There are some inner city hospitals that have a lot of congestion, that have a lot of internal problems," ER Director at St. Francis, Marcia Abernathy said.
The national average wait time for a patient in an emergency room is about four hours.
Abernathy says you would only wait an average of 35 minutes at St. Francis. She says that's probably the case at most Heartland hospitals.
She calls it one of the perks of living in a smaller town.
"If you have individuals denied medical care from private practice or don't have access to it, they're going to use the emergency department as primary care. That's when you see the prolonged wait," she explains.
Abernathy said every second can mean the difference between life and death for some patients, so they try to figure out what you need as soon as you walk in.
"Anybody going to an ER should be checked in by the nurse to see if they are in need of the next bed," Abernathy said.
But many patients feel there's always room for improvement.
"I think waiting in the back for the doctor needs to change. I think we need more staff," Moore said.
Abernathy also said hospitals now need to plan ahead for the next ten years.
She said that's when baby boomers are expected to begin needing emergency services, and it's going to greatly exceed the patients they see now.
So do patients who use an ambulance generally get taken in a lot faster?
Experts say again, because so many people choose to use ambulances, everyone is evaluated as they enter the ER to see who needs help first.