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Local emergency rooms fight for funding

February 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Emergency rooms are one of the of busiest departments at most Southland hospitals, but many don't get the funding they need. Now a new report underscores the need for improvements at local ERs.An overnight stay at Children's Hospital L.A.'s Emergency Department still hasn't yielded any answers as to what's ailing 12-year-old Destiny Okada. Right now she's in a lot of pain.

"She started with a neck ache, and then she had a fever," said Kristine Okada, Destiny's mom. "She then woke up with spots which looked like chicken pox."

The Okadas went to the ER because Destiny's mom felt her daughter needed to see a specialist immediately.

"That way we could go ahead and skip the whole referral process," said Kristine.

An Orange County study of ER visits shows half of all patient visits are not emergencies and could be avoided. The result is high costs and overcrowding.

"The wait sometimes at night time can be between five to seven hours," said Dr. Janet Semple-Hess.

Orange County health officials say in 2007 about 336,000 ER visits were not necessary, according to the report. And experts say that number will increase as more people lose their jobs and their health insurance.

"They wait for care and then finally in desperation they go to an emergency department," said Dr. Semple-Hess.

Children's Hospital L.A. has one of the busiest emergency rooms in the county. In 16 years, Dr. Semple-Hess says she's seen the demand for service explode. The staff sees about 70,000 patients a year.

Yet the department doesn't get as much funding as other programs. There are things like video games to make the waits easier on families, a family stress counselor and extra beds that would make a big difference to little patients.

"We hope that we have enough child-life people and technicians and others to help guide the family so when kids come back the emergency room is not frightening to them," said Dr. Semple-Hess.

The hope is to get enough funding before the new emergency department opens in two years.

To raise money, the hospital's having a fundraiser Sunday called "Kids on the Run." It's a fun-filled event where parents can get free child development advice and kids get to exercise.

It reassures families like the Okadas that the hospital is ready, 24-7.