The Rhode Island Health Department has ordered the state's hospitals to stop diverting ambulances to other facilities "until further notice." During the one-week period beginning Dec. 30, five or six hospitals were diverting patients because their beds and emergency rooms were full, said Robert Marshall, Rhode Island's assistant director of health. Rhode Island has 11 acute-care hospitals. Marshall said the diversions came to the health department's attention because of added monitoring of hospitals during the federal "Code Orange" security level, which was lowered last week. In a notice faxed to hospital chief executives Jan. 7, the health department advised them to stop diverting ambulances because patients were traveling too far for treatment and essential equipment was in transit too long. Health Department Director Patricia Nolan is meeting tomorrow with state hospital officials to discuss long-term solutions.
Marshall said flu and pneumonia have contributed to a spike in hospital admissions but nothing extraordinary was found as a cause for the recent ambulance diversions. The order represented the first time in at least 25 years that the state's hospitals were asked not to divert ambulances. "We're hopeful that when we meet with department of health tomorrow, we can discuss what's prompting the increase we've seen here," said Ed Quinlan, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island. Hospitals are doing what they can to manage the patient volume, from canceling elective surgeries to treating patients in recovery rooms, Quinlan said. -- by Jeff Tieman