Safety Net Emergency Departments Like St. Francis Medical Center’s ED Becoming Critical

July 2011

While one third of US emergency departments closed between 1989 and 2009, safety net emergency departments were an astounding 40% more likely to disappear during the same time frame. Safety net hospitals are those that see a high proportion of low income patients. When an emergency department closes, this leads to crowding in emergency rooms, which is not caused by simple supply and demand. This, in turn, leads to longer wait times for hospital admissions, and crowding problems for all hospital units. Unfortunately, safe staffing law violations can sometimes follow.

"If you don't have an emergency department in your neighborhood, it doesn't mean your emergency disappears. It means you go find the nearest one, and so in this sense, everyone really is affected by this. Not just those people who are experiencing the closures," said Dr. Renee Hsia, lead author of a recent study about the dramatic decline of US emergency departments.

The St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood is the only safety net emergency department in southeast Los Angeles after Martin Luther King Ambulatory Care Center (formerly King/Drew and King-Harbor) closed its emergency room in 2007 because of a poor record of patient care. St. Francis was by far the most impacted by the closure of King-Harbor. The hospital expanded its emergency room by 14 beds, and saw an increase of about 25 patients per day. In South LA, there is now 1 hospital bed for every 1,000 people, as compared to the national average of 3 hospital beds per 1,000 residents.

The struggle the RNs at St. Francis face over the next three days as they stare down 17% wage cuts as well as benefit cuts will affect the entire community. In this case, its a community that has already had to deal with so much.

Learn more about the sensible proposals of the St. Francis RNs here.