Almost Half of Hospitals Experience Crowded Emergency Departments

For Immediate Release: September 27, 2006

Contact: CDC National Center for Health Statistics Press Office (301) 458-4800


Staffing, Capacity, and Ambulance Diversion in Emergency Departments: United States, 2003-04. Advance Data 376. 24 pp. (PHS) 2006-1250. pdf icon[PDF – 1 MB]

Between 40 percent and 50 percent of U.S. hospitals experience crowded conditions in the emergency department (ED) with almost two-thirds of metropolitan EDs experiencing crowding at times, according to a new report issued today by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The report, entitled “Staffing, Capacity, and Ambulance Diversion in Emergency Departments: United States, 2003-04,” contains a number of findings, including:

  • An average of 4,500 EDs were in operation in the United States during 2003 and 2004.
  • Crowding in metropolitan EDs was associated with a higher percentage of nursing vacancies, higher patient volume, and longer patient waiting and treatment durations.
  • Over half the EDs saw fewer than 20,000 patients annually, but 1 out of 10 had an annual visit volume of more than 50,000 patients.
  • Most EDs used outside contractors to provide physicians (64.7 percent).
  • Half of EDs in metropolitan areas had more than 5 percent of their nursing positions vacant.
  • Approximately one-third of U.S. hospitals reported having to divert an ambulance to another emergency department due to overcrowding or staffing shortages at their ED.


Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006