The emergency room in Sacramento County has become the primary care clinic for many the region's poor.
Four years ago, Sacramento County supervisors began shoring up successive budget deficits by making large cuts to public health clinics that primarily serve the poor. Since those cuts began, the number of patients at public health clinics in Sacramento County has fallen by about 50 percent, or 80,000, the latest county figures show.
Over roughly the same period, the number of patients seeking emergency room treatment in Sacramento County has grown by 80,000, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The poor account for most of the rise.
Sacramento County ERs saw 132,000 Medi-Cal patients in 2011, up from 94,000 in 2008. ERs saw 69,000 patients with no insurance in 2011, up from 50,000 during 2008.
The trend drives up costs -- and wait times. It's occurring nationwide.
A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that, "An estimated 79.7% of adults visited the emergency room for reasons reflecting lack of access to other providers, significantly more than the 66.0% of adults who visited because of seriousness of the medical problem." (Patients studied often gave more than one reason for their ER visit.)
These charts show the drop in treatments at county-run public health clinics and the rise in emergency room visits.