The problem isn't confined to hospitals that serve mostly the uninsured. Wait times of several hours also occur at places like Hoag Hospital in Orange County, Calif., according to Carla Schneider, a registered nurse and director of the emergency care unit there.
"It does get frustrating," she said. "People deserve better care."
"It's clearly a national problem," said Dr. Ramon Johnson, a member of the board of directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), who was among the doctors who testified.
Doctors attribute the lack of hospital beds to cutbacks in hospital budgets. Many blame it on the growth of managed care in the 1990s, where hospitals were forced to cut costs wherever possible.
"We can get tests done…within the space of a few hours, even though we have more patients than we can handle," said Dr. Gabe Kelen, chair of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Patients themselves have now come to realize they are better off coming to the emergency department."