CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) – The congressional budget office estimates that around 25 million of those without insurance will gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act. As more people become insured, they also will need to find a doctor.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the nation has a shortage of doctors and emergency rooms are already strained. While some hospitals are bracing for the influx of patients, some like St. Joseph’s Hospital have a plan in place.
Health workers at St. Joseph’s said doctors and nurses are already used to the hustle and bustle, especially in the emergency department and urgent care. That’s where the uninsured who can’t afford a regular doctor’s visit can get care.
Sue Johnson is the director of emergency and urgent care services at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She said, like most hospital, if a patient comes to be treated at an emergency department, they will be treated and won’t be turned away. For less complex cases like the flu, colds and cuts, as well as after-hours, urgent care is a popular choice.
“It could be at 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon. If you have a sore throat, you'll be seen in urgent care. So the bill is more commensurate with a clinic bill than an ED bill so we're trying to save dollars that way,” said Johnson. Urgent care is a 24/7 department at St. Joseph’s.
Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of people are projected to be insured and experts predict hospitals will be busy with new patients.
But Johnson said she doesn’t believe there will be a noticeably large influx due to the Affordable Care Act at the hospital, but slight influxes already happen in general.
“I'm sure that the primary care physicians will be accumulating more patients and probably having more difficulty seeing them. That's the case already at times,” said Johnson. “People that can't get to their physician, the nurse line or whatever will tell them, why don't you go be seen in the ED?”
But in case of an influx, Johnson said there’s a plan in place in the emergency and urgent care departments.
The hospital already monitors its volumes with how many patients are seen a day, what time of day they come in, etc.
“We always have a plan in place because it is an emergency department, to flex up and be able to manage things that are happening emergently,” said Johnson. “But for more long term increased volume, that we would look at changing the staffing pattern.”
Rhonda Brown is the regional director of community health development for HSHS, Western Wisconsin Division. She is part of the Chippewa County Affordable Care Action Team which helps educate and inform other health organizations in the area.
“I think just that the community is reassured that we're on top of it and we're going to take care of patients the best that we can like we always have,” said Brown. “We're prepared to whatever kind of influx of patients or changes that we might have to experience that we'll be able to handle them.”