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Austin ER's Got 2,678 Visits From 9 people Over 6 Years

Austin ER's Got 2,678 Visits From 9 people Over 6 Years

Mary Ann Roser / American-Stateman

April 01, 2009

In the past six years, eight people from Austin and one from Luling racked up 2,678 emergency room visits in Central Texas, costing hospitals, taxpayers and others $3 million, according to a report from a nonprofit made up of hospitals and other providers that care for the uninsured and low-income Central Texans.

One of the nine spent more than a third of last year in the ER: 145 days. That same patient totaled 554 ER visits from 2003 through 2008.

“We looked at frequent users of emergency departments … and that’s the extreme,” said Ann Kitchen, executive director of the Integrated Care Collaboration, the group that presented the report last week to the Travis County Healthcare District board. “What we’re really trying to do is find out who’s using our emergency rooms … and find solutions.”

The health district, one of 26 members of the ICC, has long been concerned about overuse and crowding of ERs, a problem that has hit hospitals around the country.

The district is seeking ways to reduce the load on ERs by better managing where patients who don’t have a real emergency go for care, CEO and President Patricia Young Brown said. In the past couple of years, the district has expanded hours at public clinics it oversees and has financed an urgent care center, where patients who don’t have real emergencies can receive after-hours medical treatment at a lower cost to taxpayers than in an ER.

The ICC staff, meanwhile, has been gathering data so its members could learn more about the kinds of patients who use the ER.

The report that mentioned the nine high-frequency patients didn’t include reasons for all of those ER visits and didn’t identify the patients because of privacy laws. But Kitchen, a former state legislator from Austin, gave a sketch: All nine speak English; three are homeless; five are women whose average age is 40, and four are men whose average age is 50. Seven have a mental health diagnosis and eight have a drug abuse diagnosis. Kitchen said she did not know their citizenship status.

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