US Congress hears testimony about medical personnel shortages

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A subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee in the United States House of Representatives is holding hearings on problems with emergency medical services in the U.S. A series of reports were issued by the Institute of Medicine which detail various problems were recently issued. Shortages of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have been extensively reported on in recent years.

Among several findings were that, from 1993 to 2003, emergency department visits in the U.S. grew by 26%, yet the total number of emergency departments fell by 425, a loss of approximately 198,000 beds. Visits to emergency rooms have not declined. Rather, they have grown for various reasons.

Funding has either been reduced or not increased in most cases, yet emergency rooms are the first response to serious injury and illness. The Congress is involved for reasons of general public health, and also to develop response strategies to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, pandemics (such as the avian flu virus), and also to address the increasing number of uninsured people in the U.S. who don't get treatment until a condition becomes an emergency.

Specific complaints are that pay rates are low, funding is not made available, and not enough people are available with proper training. These hearings are specifically to make recommendations for future legislation and budget development. They are also directly related to hearings on immigration reform in the U.S. for two very different reasons. One is to address the medical needs of illegal immigrants, but the other is to consider opening up visa opportunities to bring in foreign workers to cover the shortfall in personnel.


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