All deserve ready access to emergency health care

Recently, the urgent care facility in Gowanda was expanded and a local request to include a 24/7 emergency room was denied. Any attempt to establish an emergency service facility in Gowanda, which is 17 to 20 miles from other hospital emergency rooms, is viewed as competitive or a duplication of services. Distance to emergency health care services should not be measured in miles. Life-threatening traumas rely on speedy access to appropriate treatment for a positive outcome, so distance should be assessed in terms of commute time.

Currently there are five hospital emergency rooms serving 280,000 people in a 3,000-square-mile area of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and southern Erie counties, which is mostly rural with difficult winter driving conditions. In this tri-county area, three emergency rooms exist at the northern end (Dunkirk, Lake Shore and Springville) and two at the southern end (Olean and Jamestown). Seventy percent of the area’s rural population is 20 to 30 minutes away from any emergency room service. Given an average wait of 20 to 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the call site, it could take as much as an hour for a victim to reach one of these ERs. Two of the five hospitals have an uncertain future, so the situation could become much worse.

The health care delivery system in Western New York is undergoing upheaval. Corporations battle for power in the effort to monopolize the market. Decisions aren’t being made by health professionals but orchestrated by corporate moguls without conscience. What can we do about it? Becoming aware and informed is a start. Speak out. Public opinion does have the power to influence.

Irene Koch