Health Commissioner Directs Hospitals to Take Immediate Steps to Avert Hospital Emergency Room Overcrowding

Department Will Monitor Emergency Department Operations to Ensure the Safety of Patients

Albany, January 4, 2001 – With regional influenza activity now being reported in New York State, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today reiterated that all New York hospitals are expected to adopt effective strategies to maintain quality patient care services in the wake of emergency department overcrowding and ambulance diversion.

In a December 11, 2000 letter sent to all hospital administrators in the State (attached), Dr. Novello outlined necessary steps that hospitals should take to ensure that quality patient care is not compromised during peak patient volume periods, such as often occur during the flu season.

"Emergency department overcrowding is a hospital–wide problem and hospital administrators must continue to be proactive and accountable in addressing overcrowding situations. The hospital's Chief Executive Officer should frequently visit the emergency department, particularly during peak periods, to assess staffing levels, monitor patient care services and determine the facility's ability to appropriately respond to patient care needs," Dr. Novello said.

One of the key factors contributing to emergency department overcrowding is that patients who require hospital admission are being kept in the emergency department waiting for available inpatient beds. To immediately address this concern Dr. Novello has directed hospitals to:

  • Use all available inpatient beds to move patients out of the emergency department.
  • Designate an individual to monitor that all available beds are made available for admissions from the emergency department.
  • Assure that ancillary services are available to the emergency department.

To assist hospitals, the Department is prepared to grant emergency approval to increase bed capacity, as long as there is sufficient staffing available. The Department will continue to monitor emergency departments to identify and target problem areas. A "Best Practices" workgroup comprised of Department staff and health care industry representatives also will be convened shortly to examine additional strategies for addressing overcrowding issues.

"Emergency department overcrowding is emerging as a national and statewide health issue that requires our full attention," Dr. Novello said. "In continuing both short–term and long–term solutions to this issue, we will continue to work with hospitals and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers to address emergency department volume and diversion practices."

01/04/01–1 OPA