While at work as a cafeteria worker at a Milwaukee hospital in August 2014, Tiffany Tate, 37, suffered a stroke. She was only 2/10 of a mile away from one of the premier stroke centers in the city – a relatively quick three-minute drive. However, the ambulance sent to pick her up did not take her there.
Instead, she was transported to another hospital that only provided her with a minimal amount of stroke care. The doctors there did not provide her with adequate treatment for her stroke, and as a result, she was transferred to a nursing home. Within four months of the date of her stroke, Tate, a mother of two, died.
Her passing has brought a controversial practice to the attention of patients and medical providers – one in which ambulances carrying patients are rerouted away from emergency rooms that claim to be too busy. This common practice is referred to as ambulance diversion.
How did we get here?
Emergency department overcrowding is a real problem. In more rural areas, where doctors may be scarce or patients may not be able to afford better health insurance, using the ED for common, less severe medical treatment is the norm. It has gotten so bad in Robeson County, for example, that Southeastern Health is now encouraging patients to seek treatment at their walk-in urgent care clinic in the local Walmart, rather than at the hospital itself.
This overcrowding in general is what leads to ambulance diversion; the EDs simply cannot keep up with the number of patients, and they lack the appropriate number of beds (or staff) to properly treat them. When this backlog and delay exists, these patients are kept for lengthy periods of time in the emergency room instead of having this crucial emergency room space freed up for new critically and catastrophically injured patients. Hospitals are not permitted to put up literal “no vacancy” signs. However, the practice of ambulance diversion accomplishes the same goal.
In some portions of the country, ambulance diversion has become either entirely accepted or entirely rejected. Other areas are more nuanced in how they handle the practice. Some hospitals are completely overwhelmed, while others at times prefer not to accept additional emergency patients. In some cases, certain regulatory authorities permit hospitals to close themselves to further emergency visitors when a lack of inpatient beds exists. Others permit hospitals to reroute ambulances away only when their emergency departments become full.
The dangers of ambulance diversion
Diversion increases the transport time of patients, which can delay critical care inside of a hospital. The consequences of this delay can be serious particularly when the patient has suffered from respiratory failure, stroke, heart attack, or other medical events and conditions necessitating immediate care.
Ambulance diversion also blocks access to emergency medical services (EMS). When medical transports are longer in terms of driving time, the ambulances and their crews are detained for longer periods of time, leaving them unable to attend to new emergencies. As a result, the public at large may experience delayed emergency responses due to extended ambulance unavailability.
Questions of liability for harmed incurred due to ambulance diversion
The question may be asked: When ambulance diversion occurs, where does the fault rest? Some may speculate that the emergency room staff, floor nurses, doctor, nursing supervisor, emergency room charge nurse, hospital administrator, or hospital policymaker are at fault in any particular case. Each case must be evaluated independently. An experienced medical malpractice attorney must investigate the case fully using extensive resources and other capabilities to determine the reason for ambulance diversion, medical negligence, and inadequate care.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury, or if your loved one has died as a result of a delay in critical medical care, we can help. The Charlotte medical malpractice attorneys at Warren & Kallianos, PLLC can thoroughly investigate the reasons for the delay treatment of you or your loved one. We can work intelligently and vigorously to secure your rightful compensation. Call us today at 704.275.5593, or complete our contact form to set up a free case evaluation.