The Jobless and Non - Insured are Turning to ERs' for Routine Medical Care

JONESBORO (KAIT) As the numbers of unemployed and people without insurance rise.

More and more people are turning to hospital emergency rooms for routine medical care.

How will this affect you in Region 8?

By federal law every patient that walks through an emergency room door must be seen. But these uninsured losses can cost the hospital lots and lots of money.

Paul Betz the CEO of NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital says it's a huge loss. "The fourteen percent of our ER visits that come in on an annual basis equates to over 12 million dollars in uninsured care on an annual basis."

NEA Baptist sees around 16 thousand patients a year pass through its emergency room.

Around 23 hundred-- or the 14 % Beltz refers to-- have no way to pay for treatment.

All of which has to be written off.

Under a federal law passed in 1985 no person can be refused treatment.

Seeing so many patients on a busy day can be tough on a small emergency room. The ER has 9 rooms with 11 beds and is usually staffed with 4 nurses and a doctor.  Taking care of the serious and the not so serious on a daily basis can be hectic.

Betz, "We certainly have our challenges from day to day with patients that probably would me more appropriately treated in a doctors office or an urgent care center."

As the economy changes no plans to make any treatment policies has been made but Looking into the future Betz says they are concerned.

Betz, "We are concerned that as people lose their jobs and health benefits that eventually they will want to come to the emergency room to seek their primary care and as that number increases that will be a challenge."

For now the numbers of insured vs. uninsured are holding pretty steady, not really escalating.

But the economic crisis is far from over.

Betz, "We're gonna see a change in our uninsured rates eventually. But we have not discussed changes any kinds of policy or practices in the way we treat patients in our emergency room we will continue to treat them the same as they always have."

Whether or not you have insurance or the ability to pay remember that under federal law an emergency room can **not** refuse to treat you.

If you or a family member are seriously ill do not hesitate to seek proper treatment.