Why more emergency departments are shutting down and becoming urgent care centers

Here’s an update on what’s happening over at the medical center in Galveston, Texas.

I’ve previously blogged about how Hurricane Ike devastated the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and its struggles in recovering.

Now, it appears that they’ve shut down their emergency department, and converted it to an urgent care center. There are several important ramifications to that action. First, urgent care centers do not have to see all comers, and can financially screen patients before treating them. Second, they are not equipped to deal with more severe cases, so patients are forced to call 911 to be transported 40+ miles to Houston.

As WhiteCoat comments, expect more hospitals to do this. You can only cut hospital payments so much before they are crushed by the financial burden of simply staying afloat. And there is a limit to vilifying hospitals for collecting from patients before realizing that if they don’t, they’ll simply shut down.

And where does that leave patients? With poor hospital access, and an hour-long trip simply to visit the emergency department.