Emergency departments in California fail to meet demands as state population rises.  

According to a new study by the University of California, San Francisco, emergency departments in California have been struggling to keep up with patient demand during the last decade. 

The study, published last week, finds that although the number of emergency departments in California has decreased by almost 4%, emergency department visits have risen by 7.4%, worsening the departments’ abilities to provide timely care for patients.  

In 2022, California had the ninth-highest waiting times in emergency departments among states in the country, according to the study. 

Researchers at UCSF relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the California Department of Health Care Access and Information.  

The charts above represent data from Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2021. 

Who is most impacted? 

Emergency departments are crucial to the healthcare system in the U.S. 

Unlike other hospital departments, they are not allowed to refuse care to patients who are unable to pay. Thus, emergency departments act as a safety net for patients without insurance. 

Underprivileged, low-income patients are the most likely to be impacted by the high wait times as they rely the most on emergency departments for medical care. 

The study argues that the decrease in emergency departments is significant because “they provide a safety net of uncompensated care” and that “the majority of ambulatory patients use the ED because they do not have any other timely alternative for care.” 

Renee Hsia, a professor at UCSF and one of the co-authors of the study, argues for policies that work to solve the issues addressed in the study. 

“Our findings show what many health care workers already know to be true: the burden on emergency departments across the state of California has intensified over the last 10-15 years,” Hsia said. 

“Becoming aware of these trends is the first step to improving emergency department care,” she said. “To efficiently and equitably address ED crowding and improve overall care, policy makers and health care administrators should work to increase ED capacity, while also making thoughtful decisions about where and how to best allocate resources.” 

Nibras is an intern at Bay City News through the Emma Bowen Foundation. She is a rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley, studying Media and Data Science. She is passionate about the intersection of data and journalism and previously served as the deputy editor of the data department at the Daily Californian. She spends much of her time reading and writing and is always looking for ways to support local, community-based organizing efforts.