Doctors from around the nation ascended on Washington on Tuesday to call attention to what they said is a growing problem: emergency room gridlock.
Health care officials said that each year more than 110 million Americans receive emergency care, yet hospital bed space is decreasing, creating longer wait times for some patients to get treatment.
More than 300 emergency room doctors attended the conference. They said the problem has plagued the medical industry for more than a decade but it is getting worse.
"Over the last year or so it's dramatically climbed. April was the busiest month in our history," said Dr. Bob Rothstein, director of emergency medicine at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.
Health care workers said the emergency department gridlock gets so trying that at times, patients are kept in hospital hallways until rooms are available, creating an increased chance in some cases for death.
"There's no comfort in having patients die in my waiting room. We need to find a solution to this problem," said Dr. Jon Mark Hirshon of the University of Maryland.
Emergency room physicians converged on the Capitol Tuesday to push for a federal law to strengthen availability and access to emergency care for patients and to make more medical specialists available around the clock.
"Our biggest staffing is structured around a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday institution. Should we shift and distribute some of those resources to weekends? I doubt that we would have a capacity problem, because we are trying to fit a seven-day-a-week problem into a five-day-a-week industry," said Dr. Peter Viccellio.
Medical workers said most people seen in emergency rooms have no insurance, and no place to go. They also said that something most people may not know is that when emergency rooms fill up, oftentimes ambulances must be turned away.
"If the legislators were sitting in my waiting room or if one of their loved ones was taken to another hospital because their local hospital was closed, I think we'd have more done," said Rothstein.
Officials said the Access to Emergency Medical Service Act of 2007, which was introduced in Congress earlier this year, would increase funding for emergency care.