Arkansas At Bottom of National List for Emergency Care

January 11, 2006 – Posted at 5:52 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- A study released Tuesday is bringing attention to our nation's emergency health care systems. The report found the emergency system to be overcrowded, with access to ER care declining and lacking the ability to deal with public health or terrorist disasters.

The American College of Emergency Physicians Task Force studied the nation's emergency care systems, and unfortunately, Arkansas ranked as one of the lowest. Much of the reason the Natural State ranks so low is because of accessibility.

In a statement from the NEA Medical Center, Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Brewer Rhodes says, "The rural nature of Arkansas adversely impacts access to specialty care across the state. Often doctors at smaller, rural hospitals usually don't have the resources that doctors in metropolitan hospitals do."

"I've worked across the state with a lot of distinguished physicians, both in this state and out, and I think we stand tall among them and hold our own with anyone," said Dr. Walter Short, a staff ER physician for St. Bernards Medical Center.

Often ER's are congested with a backlog of patients simply because they are not there for "true" emergency services. And as required by law, emergency rooms cannot turn away patients for an inability to pay.

"People just don't have a lot of resources, they don't have the insurances, and they can't get into a private doctor's office. So they have to come to the emergency department, and unfortunately that is just the situation that we are in. And the emergency department at times gets somewhat overburdened," said St. Bernards Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Donald DeCarlo.

The number of emergency room departments has declined 14% since 1993, despite the increasing number of patients who come here for treatment. Overall, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and the District of Columbia were rated best in emergency care, while the lowest grades went to Utah, Idaho and Arkansas.