MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Chronic overcrowding in the emergency department of the Memphis Veterans Affairs hospital led to some patients waiting up to 14 hours to be admitted or transferred to another hospital, according to a new inspection report released Wednesday from the VA Inspector General.
The inspector general visited the hospital's emergency department in February after getting a complaint about long wait times, shortage of beds and unresponsiveness from the management.
The VA hospital in Memphis serves veterans in West Tennessee and parts of Mississippi and Arkansas. Its emergency department has 22 beds and had more than 30,000 visits to the ER in the last fiscal year.
But the IG found that chronic overcrowding led to excessive wait times at the emergency room. They reviewed data from the second half of 2011 and found on average that more than a quarter of emergency patients spent more than six hours in the emergency room before being admitted or transferred.
The VA said its goal is to have no more 10 percent of patients spend more than six hours in the emergency department.
The inspection found that several factors contributed to the overcrowding and long wait times. According to the report, the hospital reduced the number of inpatient beds from 127 to 108 in 2010 in order to improve the ratio of nurses to patients.
Another problem identified in the report was that the department did not have ultrasound technicians working past 5 p.m. The VA requires emergency ultrasound services for diagnosis of various obstetric or gynecologic, cardiac and cardiovascular problems.
The inspectors found that if a patient needed an ultrasound in the evening, the patient was taken to a community hospital for the procedure and then brought back to the VA, which could take up to six hours.
Finally the inspectors also noted that the ER could not admit mental health patients during the overnight hours even if beds were available. Those patients would be sent to another hospital, only to be brought back the following day, the report said.
Since the inspection visit, the Memphis VA hospital has opened six additional medical/surgical beds and nine more mental health beds to decrease the number of transfers to other hospitals, according to a response filed by the hospital's medical director.
The medical director also noted that they have begun hiring ultrasound technicians for nights and weekends.