LAS VEGAS - Las Vegas medical professionals must learn to route patients quickly through hospitals and keep noncritical patients out to combat what one expert said is possibly the worst emergency room crisis in the nation.
Although the lack of empty hospital beds and clogged emergency rooms is a nationwide dilemma, ''It's more severe here than any other place I've seen,'' said Mike Williams, the key speaker at a Friday conference aimed at solving hospital overcrowding in Las Vegas.
''We're holding onto patients in the ER that could be tracked faster or are waiting for services, tests and consultations that could be done differently.''
Williams is the president of the Abaris Group, an independent consulting firm from northern California specializing in emergency medical systems. Williams and his team work with hospitals across the country to improve emergency medical services.
More than 70 representatives from local hospitals, the Clark County Health District, fire departments and ambulance services attended the conference to gain insight into the hospital problems and brainstorm about solutions.
Williams said the goal of the hospitals in the valley should be to wipe out the divert system completely.
When a hospital goes on divert, it means there are no empty beds available at that facility to care for more patients. Hospitals on divert status still receive ambulance patients, but they enter into a rotation with other hospitals also on divert rather than receive a constant stream of patients.
Williams said if hospital officials took an in-depth look at their internal operations, they could find ways to free up enough beds so diverting patients would not be necessary.
His position was greeted with skepticism from some hospital administrators.
''It will create compromises in patient care,'' said William Hale, chief executive officer for University Medical Center. ''There will be hospitals that won't be able to handle it. To say to a hospital you cannot go on divert at anytime, I think it will create a calamity.''
Williams, however, suggests developing a discharge unit so patients who are ready to go home but are merely waiting for lab results or transportation can wait in a waiting room rather than tying up a bed.
He also said hospitals need to look at developing or revamping a fast track system adjacent to the emergency room department. A fast track would ideally move noncritical patients in and out of the hospital in a couple of hours, freeing up resources for true emergencies.
Several hospital administrators attending the conference said they already have fast track programs.
''We have a fast track area, but it's only open when we have enough people to staff it,'' said Dr. Rick Henderson, the director of the emergency department at St. Rose Dominican Hospital.