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Patient Load Strains Denver ERs

April 14, 2008
Patient load strains Denver ERs Two hospitals' move to Aurora pressures remaining facilities By Myung Oak Kim Tuesday, April 8, 2008 Denver hospitals are seeing more emergency room patients since University of Colorado Hospital and The Children's Hospital moved to Aurora last year. Both hospitals, which are now at the Anschutz Medical Campus near I-225 and Colfax, handled thousands of ER patients a year when they were in Denver. They've also seen more patients at the new location. In Denver, hospital administrators say they prepared for the change. Despite increases in ER visits, patients shouldn't be waiting longer for services, they said. However, observers of local health care say the loss of the two ERs puts more pressure on the remaining emergency rooms in Denver. An independent study is being prepared to measure the impacts, both on emergency rooms and other hospital services. University of Colorado Hospital relocated in June, and The Children's Hospital moved in September. The impact has been significant at Rose Medical Center on Ninth Avenue near Colorado Boulevard, a former neighbor of University of Colorado Hospital. ER visits have jumped 20 percent, officials report. Emergency rooms at Denver Health and Exempla St. Joseph Hospital have seen more modest increases - five percent each. For Denver Health, at Eighth Avenue and Bannock Street, that translates into an average of about 400 more patients a month at its emergency room and urgent care clinics since last fall, said spokeswoman Dee Martinez. Visits for pediatric urgent care rose 15 percent during that time, she said. The safety-net hospital said it worked hard to increase capacity by adding beds and expanding adult urgent care facilities. The facility also is building a larger new emergency department for children and adults. 'Considerable pressure' "Before the new beds opened, there was considerable pressure on hospital capacity, and the emergency department was often forced to divert ambulances to other facilities," Martinez said. "This has improved somewhat, but the emergency service continues to be very busy." Saint Joseph, at Franklin Street and 18th Avenue, saw an average of just over 200 more patients a month in the ER, said Bruce Adams, emergency department physician medical director. Adams anticipated higher demand and increased staffing and changed procedures to move patients through the hospital more quickly. He said the change hasn't caused problems, and he's already planning for higher patient loads when St. Anthony Central moves to Lakewood in a couple of years. Rose physicians also prepared for the change. Don Lefkowits, medical director of the emergency department, said the hospital renovated its emergency room and added capacity to the intensive care unit. Mayor formed panel The full impact of the hospital relocations have not been studied yet by local organizations. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper formed a panel to analyze the issue. Katherine Archuleta, the mayor's senior adviser on policy and initiatives, said the group is working on a survey to assess long-term and short-term impacts, but the survey hasn't been distributed yet. Ed Kahn is a lawyer at the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, which advocates for better health care, among other issues. He said the decline in emergency rooms in Denver is troubling because the city already faced capacity problems before the two hospitals moved to Aurora. "Having fewer emergency- room beds only increases the pressure on the smaller number that are left," he said. The change means longer waits, and patients "may not be able to go to the nearest emergency room because it may already be full," he said. kimm@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2361 Average monthly rise Total annual Hospital in visits after move ER visits Denver Health Medical Center 400 44,000 Presbyterian/ St. Luke's Medical Center 120 13,000 St. Joseph Hospital 200 48,000 Rose Medical Center 20 percent* n/a © Rocky Mountain News