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Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 1:05pm

Broke Patients Flood ERs

The slumping economy is contributing to longer waits at many emergency rooms in Georgia, as well as less money per patient for hospitals, according to the Georgia Hospital Association.

The numbers vary, but hospitals around the state are reporting five to 20 percent increases in the number of patients being treated in emergency rooms, compared to last year. Kim Brazell is a spokeswoman for one of those institutions, Gordon Hospital in North Georgia. She says her hospital’s ER is treating almost 20 percent more people than last year. Meanwhile, fewer are paying for that treatment.

"Because, we’re a largely manufacturing area and when there’s a slowdown on the production line, people are out of work, we understand that.

The average cost to a hospital to treat an ER patient is about a thousand dollars, according to the American Hospital Association. Federal law requires hospitals to treat ER patients, regardless of whether the patient can pay.

Also, GHA says an increase in flu cases is adding time to waits in Georgia's emergency rooms.