According to data by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Maryland holds the title for longest ER wait times in the nation. While the national average wait time is 22 minutes, Maryland comes in with an average of 53 minutes per patient.
The issue has become so common across the state that some Maryland residents have simply come to accept that there will be a long wait if they need to visit the ER. Barbara Owens, who waited eight hours during a recent visit to a Maryland ER, believes it’s simply normal.
“If you go to an ER you’re going to sit for an amount of time,” said Owens. She was brought to Howard County General Hospital’s Emergency Department in December after neither eating nor drinking for two straight days.
Patrick Burke, Owens’ boyfriend, said that after immediately performing routine tests, doctors sent the couple back to the ER waiting room where they sat for just about eight hours before seeing another doctor.
Nursing assistants and orderlies suffer roughly three times the rate of back injuries as workers in other industries, but right now Maryland hospital staff members are suffering from exhaustion.
Many people have speculated as to the reasons behind increased wait times in Maryland ERs, but one highly suspected cause is the increase in recent heroin abuse. Carmela Coyle, President and CEO for the Maryland Hospital Association, reported an 18% increase in mental health and substance abuse-related ER cases.
While the overall amount of ER patients has gone down in recent years, the number of visits in relation to behavioral health increased by 11% in 2015 alone. Coyle said that the increasing number of mental health patients has created a backup in many Maryland hospitals.
“We’re actually treating more mental health and substance abuse patients and they’re taking longer to treat,” said Coyle. According to the Maryland Hospital Association, the exact number is around three hours longer than average.
Officials are attempting to stem the flow of behavioral patients in the ER by making more information available. Coyle said the heart of the issue is helping patients “understand when to use the emergency department and when to use other more appropriate sources of care.”
There are other theories bouncing around, but the high amount of behavioral patients is the most likely cause of higher ER wait times.