Report reveals frequent emergency services users cost cities millions

Mar 31, 2012

Emergency Room Guarantees 15 Minute Or Less Wait

A patient talks with nurse in the Emergency Room at Central Montgomery Medical Center December 10, 2004 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

This week a joint venture between the San Diego Union-Tribune and USC’s Center for Health Reporting gives us a new use of the term “frequent flyers” – this time as a name for the .08% of San Diego’s population that produces 17% of the city’s 911 calls and relies largely on emergency room visits for their health care.

The group is mostly homeless, and at an average of six visits a piece per year, costs taxpayers close to $20 million in ambulance and paramedic charges. The issue is neither unique to San Diego nor purely financial – emergency room doctors, paramedics, and firemen spend an extraordinary amount of energy, time, and resources on such patients, who often don’t even have the support to follow through with aftercare instructions. One solution is programs like Project 25, started with a $1.5 million United Way of San Diego County grant, which aims to get these frequent users off the streets altogether and into housing, but could there be other solutions and is it enough?

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