2021 Edition — California Emergency Departments

A Critical Source of Care

Renee Y. Hsia, University of California, San Francisco


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California’s emergency departments (EDs) provide a critical source of health care to people with acute medical conditions or who have experienced trauma or injury. EDs are expected to treat all patients regardless of their ability to pay. They also provide an important entry point for inpatient hospital care. In 2019, 329 acute care hospitals in California operated a licensed ED. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of EDs remained relatively stable, while the number of individual treatment stations increased 23%, from 6,777 to 8,362. In 2019 California’s EDs handled 14.9 million visits, 27% more than in 2009.

California Emergency Departments: A Critical Source of Care looks at the most recent data on supply, visits, and wait times, as well as trends from 2009 to 2019.

Key findings include:

  • The number of ED treatment stations increased in all regions throughout the state between 2009 and 2019, even those regions that experienced a decrease in emergency departments. In 2019, ED visits per 1,000 residents ranged from a low of 316 in Orange County to a high of 501 in the Northern and Sierra region.
  • Medi-Cal was the expected payer for 42% of all ED visits in 2019, compared to 26% for private payers and 23% for Medicare.
  • While the majority of ED visits (87%) did not result in a hospital admission, one in six of those not admitted were for conditions severe enough to be life-threatening.
  • California ED patients who were sent home spent nearly three hours, on average, in the ED. For those with psychiatric/mental conditions, the median stay was more than four hours.

 

The full report, and all the charts found in the report, are available for download below. These materials are part of CHCF’s California Health Care Almanac, an online clearinghouse for key data and analyses describing the state’s health care landscape. See our entire collection of current and past editions of California Hospitals and Emergency Departments.