LAS VEGAS - A fast-growing population is swamping Clark County hospitals, which have been forced to delay some health services because of a shortage of beds.
Ambulances in the Las Vegas area are on ''divert status,'' meaning that they sometimes must pass closer but overcrowded hospitals and deliver patients to less crowded facilities farther away, according to Clark County Health District officials.
Some of the county's hospitals are canceling elective surgeries and postponing procedures such as scheduled Caesarean section births. Delays in emergency rooms are common.
The overcrowding is often caused by people using the valley's emergency rooms for nonemergency situations, said Dr. Donald Kwalick, the county's chief health officer.
Eight hospitals serve Clark County's population of 1.4 million residents, which is increasing at a rate of 5.6 percent a year.
At MountainView Hospital in the northwest Las Vegas Valley, the average wait this week for an emergency-room patient was four hours.
''I've never seen anything like it,'' said Mark Howard, MountainView CEO. ''It's been a problem all summer, but we thought it would taper off. It hasn't.''
Many of the valley's new residents have yet to develop a relationship with a primary care physician, Howard said. Other patients complain that their insurance plans give them a limited selection of primary care physicians, whose appointment schedules already are booked.
At emergency rooms, however, patients are not served on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means some less-critically ill patients sometimes wait as long as six hours for care.
At Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in central Las Vegas, the emergency room treated from 225 to 250 patients each day this week, said Ann Lynch, director of communications.
''It's three main things,'' Lynch said. ''The increase in population, the lack of relationships with primary care physicians and then the heat.''
At several points this week, Howard said, American Medical Response ambulances were forced to rotate among the eight hospitals regardless of their proximity. Exceptions are made for trauma patients in critical condition.
Hospitals also are filling up, and in some cases are full.
All of MountainView's 120 beds are in use. Additionally, 18 people were admitted to the hospital Thursday and were forced to wait in the emergency room.
Some relief might be on its way. MountainView is scheduled Sept. 7 to open a new wing that will have 72 beds. Sunrise Hospital is scheduled to open a new emergency room in October that will be twice the size of the current one.
And St. Rose Dominican Hospital in Henderson recently opened a new site, the Sienna Campus, which was expected to ease some of the summer's overcrowding problems. The new branch added 28 emergency room beds to the hospital's existing 21 beds.
''But we're already experiencing higher volumes of people than we expected at that campus,'' Shauna Walch, St. Rose spokeswoman said.