Report: 9 Made 2,700 ER Visits In 6 Years

Nine people accounted for nearly 2,700 of the emergency room visits in Central Texas during the past six years at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and others, according to a report.

The patients - eight from Austin and one from Luling - went to emergency rooms 2,678 times between 2003 and 2008, said the report from the nonprofit Integrated Care Collaboration, a group of hospitals and other health care providers that treat low-income and uninsured patients in Central Texas.

"What we're really trying to do is find out who's using our emergency rooms ... and find solutions," said Ann Kitchen, executive director of the 26-member group, which presented the report last week to the Travis County Healthcare District board.

The average emergency room visit costs $1,000. Hospitals and taxpayers paid the bill through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Kitchen said.

Of the nine patients, eight have drug abuse problems, seven were diagnosed with mental health issues and three were homeless. Five are women whose average age is 40, and four are men whose average age is 50.

The report didn't include the reasons for the visits and didn't identify the frequent patients because of privacy law.

In addition to the nine, a confidential database of underinsured and uninsured patients culled from ICC's members also found 900 frequent users, people who were in the ER six or more times in three months. They had more than 2,000 preventable visits to Central Texas ERs in 2007, Kitchen said in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman.

"It's a pretty significant issue," said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, chief of the emergency department at University Medical Center at Brackenridge, which has the area's busiest ERs in the area.

Solutions include referring some frequent users to mental health programs or primary care doctors so they would go there first in the future, Ziebell said.

"They have a variety of complaints," Ziebell said. With mental illness, "a lot of anxiety manifests as chest pain," he said.