The nation’s emergency physicians are sounding the alarm— the number of patients “boarding,” or held in the emergency department while waiting for care, has reached a crisis level.
Wait times and staffing shortages are worse today than at any point during the pandemic in many communities. The resulting bottlenecks are overwhelming hospitals, causing dangerous delays, and putting lives at risk. Emergency care teams are strained to their limits. Demand for emergency care and services shows no signs of slowing as we head straight toward this winter’s “triple threat” of flu, COVID-19, and pediatric respiratory illnesses like RSV that are filling emergency departments. The influx of patients only piles more stress onto the shoulders of emergency physicians, who are doing all they can to treat anyone who needs them.
The American College of Emergency Physicians collected more than 100 personal stories from emergency physicians on the front lines that illustrate just how dangerous the situation has become. Be warned, these firsthand accounts are not easy to read. Patients with mental health emergencies have been known to wait for weeks, or even months, in some emergency departments until a specialist can see them. Children and other vulnerable people are being treated in hallways or even waiting rooms because there is nowhere else for them to go. Those in crisis expect and deserve better.
While the consequences of boarding are felt in the emergency department, the challenges are systemic and there is no single solution. ACEP is leading the call for the White House to convene a summit of health care leaders. Collective action is urgent and necessary to help emergency physicians address this crisis and save lives.