The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The ER crisis:
More profit for hospitals, less care for patients

Aug 13, 2001

If you have suddenly gotten sick and want to call an ambulance to take you to the hospital, think twice –especially if you live in a big city.

It has become common for the hospitals in major cities to turn away ambulances due to the overcrowding of emergency rooms. In Los Angeles, for example, the 24 ERs at the heart of the county's emergency system were shut down on average more than one-fourth of the time last May, and one-third of the time in June. Other cities are not much better off. Cleveland had all of its ERs simultaneously closed for ten% of the time in May. The same happened in metropolitan Phoenix on eight occasions between January and April. The state of Massachusetts is investigating two cases, in which patients died after not being admitted to ERs which were closed down.

Hospitals are reducing the capacity of ERs while the number of people who rely on ERs, that is, the uninsured, keeps growing. Today in the U.S. one person out of every six has no health insurance –that's about 48 million people, most of whom are workers holding jobs, and their family members.

Hospitals don't invest in ERs because they are not profitable. Not only that, hospitals also reduce the number of beds –especially expensive ICU (intensive care unit) beds, to cut costs down. According to the figures of the American Hospital Association, one in every six ICU beds in the U.S. was eliminated between 1990 and 1999. So when ER doctors try to send patients out of the ER and into the hospital, often they can't do so because there are no beds available. It is common for ERs to place patients in hallway beds, sometimes for days at a time.

Not surprisingly, hospitals have been making huge profits.

We are told endless tales of how capitalism is the best system humanity can have because, thanks to the law of "supply and demand," it's so efficient. It is efficient all right, but not in answering the demands of society. Capitalism is efficient only in producing profits for a handful of big bosses –at the expense of society's needs, even the most basic ones.