Crisis in the ER

A Call to Action

When her son Jamie started vomiting, Stacy Berger took the 1-year-old to an ER near Palm Beach, FL. "We waited for five hours and there wasn't one toy," she recalls. What's worse is that the doctor rushed the exam. "He wanted to switch the antibiotic Jamie had been taking for an ear infection and send us home," says Berger. "But he had taken that drug before without problems. I felt there was something more." So Berger pushed -- and the doctor ordered a chest X-ray. It turned out that Jamie had pneumonia.

Miffed by the visit, Berger blasted the hospital in a survey. Shortly afterward, an administrator called for more details. "He assured me things were going to change," she says. They did: When Jamie returned to the ER over a year later, it was wonderful, Berger says: "The hospital had a pediatric ER filled with books and toys. Plus, the staff seemed more thorough."

Berger's strategy was a wise one, says Dr. Shook: "Improving emergency care is a battle for parents to join." If you're eager to make a difference in your area, here's your mission:

Alert your state legislators.

Check out the EMSC's Web site, www.ems-c.org, to see if your state has pediatric equipment or training guidelines. Inform your legislators of any shortfalls. Ask them to look into the matter and introduce bills to plug the gaps.

Talk to your child's pediatrician.

Chances are, she's in the know. Ask her about ways to improve the system locally.

Write a letter to local hospitals.

Why? "Hospital administrators have no idea what's going on with children in their ERs," says a pediatrician who requested anonymity. "There is little energy or money left over after the needs of adults, and BS fills in the void of pediatric care." A few weeks after mailing the letter, call to request a meeting to address the issues. Getting nowhere? Threaten to alert the local news. And, if need be, do it. You can improve ER care -- even if it's one hospital at a time.

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