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UCSF study finds higher mortality rates for blacks near crowded hospitals than whites

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A UCSF study found that the mortality rate for black heart attack victims was higher than whites in California if the nearest emergency room was overcrowded. (Cindy Chew/2010 S.F. Examiner)

A new study from UC San Francisco found that a black person in California is more likely to die following a heart attack than a white person if the nearest emergency room is overcrowded.

Researchers compared the mortality rates of black and white patients with the period of time that the nearest hospital turned away ambulances because of overcrowding on the day of the heart attack.

The researchers found that black patients had higher mortality rates than white patients, even when both groups experienced the same ambulance diversion times.

“When blacks undergo the same amount of diversion, they experience higher levels of mortality compared to whites, even when we control for factors such as access to cardiac technology, as well as treatment,” Dr. Renee Hsia, lead researcher and a professor of emergency medicine and health policy, said in a statement.

The researchers looked at state data for more than 91,000 patients in California between 2001 and 2011, finding that black patients had a 19 percent higher one-year mortality rate compared to whites if the nearest hospital was too busy for between six and 12 hours.

Researchers also found that California hospitals serving large numbers of black patients were more likely to turn away ambulances because of overcrowding than hospitals with lower portions of black patients.

“Here we have fairly robust evidence documenting that blacks face a ‘double burden’ of inequity in our current health care system,” Hsia said. “We found that blacks experience a much higher level of diversion compared to whites in California.”

Hsia completed the research with Nandita Sarkar, a fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., and Yu-Chu Shen, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

The study was published in Health Affairs journal this month.

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