Hospital ERs Ordered to Halt ‘Diversions’

BOSTON — The state Department of Public Health (DPH) recently ordered Massachusetts hospitals to stop turning away ambulances when their ERs are overcrowded.


The practice of temporary ER closure, known as ‘diversion,’ will have to be discontinued by Jan. 1. In some cases, the practice can delay treatment and has created anxiety among patients who have been denied care at their usual hospitals. State officials note that diverting patients may initially offer a hospital some breathing room; however, it does not address the underlying problem of patients backing up in ER hallways because of no open beds.

Paul Dreyer, director of health care safety and quality at DPH, adds that diversion “potentially creates more problems than anyone thinks it solves.” In a recent letter to hospital executives, Dreyer said that, under the new policy, hospitals will be allowed to close their ERs to ambulances only if they have a serious internal emergency such as a major fire, called a ‘code black.’

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