I was helping a friend of mine clean up her back yard a couple of years ago and as I was using the weed trimmer back by the alley I wasn’t watching where I was going and fell backwards off of the curb. As I was falling my knee came down hard on the concrete. I limped back to the house to access the damage. There was a large gash across my knee and it looked like I might have broken the tibia right below the knee. I decided to have my friend take me to the emergency room.
When we got there the ER was very crowded. I signed in and they put me in a wheelchair. The emergency room was part of a large urban trauma center and the place was jumping that afternoon. There was a stabbing, a gunshot wound, and several car accidents that came in while I was there. I was in a certain amount of pain but I knew that since my injury wasn’t critical I would have a long time to wait.
It also seemed that there were a lot of non-emergency cases with people who didn’t have insurance or a regular doctor to go to. One lady was in there for a toothache. She kept complaining that she was in a lot of pain and insisted that somebody see her right away. After several hours wait she was given a couple of pain pills and told to go see a dentist. She seemed like she couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just pull her tooth right away. There were several parents there with young children who had a fever or who had been throwing up. It had been some time since I had been to the ER but I could tell that it had become a substitute for regular medical care for those who couldn’t afford insurance.
It was going on my fourth hour waiting when I realized that I had to go to the bathroom…bad. Now I don’t know who invented the concept of the half wheel chair but I think he should be strung up from the rafters. A regular wheelchair has two large wheels at the back. You can use those wheels to push yourself about. But these new chairs just have four really small wheels. It’s almost like you are sitting in a shopping cart. You need somebody to push you to get anywhere. I was really getting desperate to go to the bathroom, but there was no nurse in sight and no way that I could walk there. Finally I saw a woman get out of the only big-wheeled chair there and I slowly pulled myself over and was able to get into the chair. At that point i really didn’t care if it belonged to somebody else or not. I was starting to have visions of that poor woman who sat in the ER of a hospital for the longest time slumped over dead and nobody noticed.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, (www.stltoday.com), emergency rooms across the country have seen a significant increase in uninsured patients.
Layoffs and economic uncertainty continue to swell the ranks of the uninsured and unemployed, who often turn for primary care to the increasingly overcrowded ERs. For many local hospitals who are struggling with capacity concerns, a rush of new patients who cannot pay for their care may further burden an already overloaded system.
In 2007, uninsured patients accounted for 14.3 percent of patients in local emergency rooms. That’s a 6.8 percent increase over the previous year. Nationally there has been a 32 percent increase in ER visits over the past ten years.
With even insured patients struggling to meet co-payments officials only see the problem getting worse. And many uninsured patients wait until the situation really gets serious before seeking medical help and then wind up in the emergency room.
Local hospital officials hope that with a new president and a new govenor here in Missouri, the situation can be addressed.