By ANATH HARTMANN
WASHINGTON - Maryland ranked fourth in a national "report card" of emergency care systems released Tuesday, receiving high marks for disaster preparedness and injury prevention, but lagging in other areas, including access to care.
This is the second report card released by the American College of Emergency Physicians. The organization released its first in 2006.
This year, Maryland's overall grade was a B-, the same grade it received in 2006. An A in quality and patient safety environment and a B in public health and injury prevention helped offset categories in which the state fared worse, such as medical liability environment, in which it earned a D-, and access to emergency care, where it earned a C-.
Grades were determined based on information obtained from states, such as ambulance diversion and emergency room wait times.
The nation received an overall grade of C-. Massachusetts ranked first, with a B, then Washington, D.C., with a B-, and then Rhode Island with another B-. Wyoming ranked last with a D+. Virginia earned a C.
"This is frightening news—90 percent of the states earned mediocre or failing grades," said Nick Jouriles, president of ACEP, at a Tuesday news conference announcing the report card's findings. "When our new policymakers take office in January ... they should immediately hold hearings on the findings of this report card."
Hospital crowding is an issue of major concern in Maryland, according to the ACEP report card, which cites a shortage of inpatient beds.
But Maryland officials say they are working on it. One of the ways they hope to lessen overcrowding is through an online alert system that allows hospitals to divert patients to other hospitals based on capacity levels. The online system is updated approximately every minute.
"What we've done is to try to develop strategies to reduce delays and hospitals going on yellow alert (no emergency patients) and we've made some great strides," said Richard Alcorta, state emergency medical services medical director for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.
State officials did find a bright spot in the emergency preparedness category, new to the report card this year. Maryland's A there is due in large part to its coordinating inter-jurisdictional emergency response plans and its outreach to the special needs community, which often lacks transportation plans in the event of an emergency, said Richard Muth, director of Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
"We've been looking at preparedness for special needs folks, which has made us, from a planning perspective, better prepared," Muth said. "And we have very close interaction with local governments to make sure that the plans all come together and don't contradict each other."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.