Health & Medicine

March 21, 2013

Sacramento County ER visits rose as funding for public clinics fell

The emergency room in Sacramento County has become the primary care clinic for many of the region's poor.

The emergency room in Sacramento County has become the primary care clinic for many of 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 grew by 80,000, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The poor account for most of the rise.

Sacramento County emergency rooms 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, and it's occurring nationwide.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported: "An estimated 79.7 percent of adults visited the emergency room for reasons reflecting lack of access to other providers, significantly more than the 66 percent of adults who visited because of seriousness of the medical problem." (Patients studied often gave more than one reason for their ER visit.)

Call The Bee's Phillip Reese, (916) 321-1137.

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