Tuesday, February 28, 2006
7 News Features: ER: Emergency Risk
It can happen to anybody at anytime. An emergency strikes and you must be rushed to the hospital. But how confident are you that you will be given the proper care. In tonight's special assignment report, investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero shows us why going to the ER is an emergency risk.
WSVN--As a nurse, Barbara Masterson dedicated her life to helping others.
But when she need emergency care - she couldn't get it.
James Masterson: "Barbara woke me up early, early in the morning and said 'Jim, I can't move my right arm."
Barbara's husband Jim rushed her to the hospital where doctors said she was having a massive stroke but none of them could help her.
Even though Barbara's life was on the line - the hospital needed to find a neurosurgeon.
James Masterson: "It was just waiting and waiting and waiting."
And the longer they waited, the more severe Barbara's condition became.
The hospital spent hours pleading with several specialists to come in.
Eventually, it had no choice but to send the dying woman to another facility where a neurosurgeon finally agreed to operate.
James Masterson: "He barely saw her and he came out and said 'Jim, she needs surgery and she needs it right now.'"
Two hospitals later, Barbara Masterson passed away.
Too much time had elapsed to save her from the stroke.
Arthur Diskin: "'ve seen patients expire waiting to be transferred to other facilities."
Unfortunately, Barbara's not alone.
ER doctor Arthur Diskin knows the ER can be an emergency risk.
He says more and more specialists are refusing to treat the critically ill.
Arthur Diskin: "The problem is getting worse."
Lawsuits are a major concern especially when treating a stranger without knowing their medical history
Allan Pillersdorf: "If one case goes bad the patient wants to sue them for the entire - you know - for their entire wealth."
Physicans say personal injury attorneys are out of control.
Lawyers say we need to be protected from bad doctors.
Regardless of fault - all that litigtation is a red flag.
Bill Bell: "More claims are filed here, more lawsuits here and that drives physicians away."
Carmel Cafiero: "Specialists like neurosurgeons are not paid by the hospital. They're paid paid by the patients. And with the number of South Floridians without health insurance skyrocketing - some specialists who treat ER patients could end up - working for free."
Arthur Diskin: "Because of the tremendous increase in the uninsured they're not going to get paid."
And it's getting worse. Specialists now aren't just leaving emergency rooms, they're leaving Florida for states where they can make more money.
In fact, 2005 was the first year ever, more than half of Florida's graduating ER residents left the state.
Bill Bell: "It's getting more and more difficult to recruit a diminishing supply of specialists into this state."
To keep doctors and recruit new ones, a statewide task force was created to address the crisis.
Allan Pillersdorf: "The only way you're going to fix the problem is if you make Florida attractive to doctors."
Two possible solutions - protect ER specialists from lawsuits and pay them when patients cannot.
The task force's ecommendations now rest with the governor and legislators.
Arthur Diskin: "I believe the situation with specialists responding to emergency departments is getting worse and I believe it will get worse before it gets better."
And until it does get better, we can only hope when we need we need a doctor, going to the ER is a risk worth taking.
James Masterson: "This shouldn't happen in the richest country in the world."
By the way, Carmel mentioned doctors leaving because of lawsuits. In 2004, the average payment to a victim of medical negligence was nearly a quarter of a million dollars.