Faculty Funded Work

Computer Simulation of Emergency Department Surge Capacity
Marne Bailey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Biology
Ray Klump, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mathematics / Computer Science


Emergency departments throughout the United States are regularly stretched to their limits. It is not uncommon for ambulances to be turned away from an emergency department because it is already stressed to its capacity, a practice called ambulance diversion. Contributing factors include a shortage of beds, limited emergency room capacity, lack of available medical staff, and insufficient supplies. Hospitals typically enter into diversion agreements with nearby facilities to ameliorate some of the uncertainty that arises when an ambulance must be turned away. However, the possible ramifications of prolonging the transport of injured or ill patients are obvious. While surges in emergency department usage occur daily and somewhat predictably, it is far less clear what would happen in the event of a health crisis, such as a pandemic or a bioterrorism event. Traditional emergency department surge models would likely no longer apply, and existing diversion agreements would become impractical to implement.

This project will develop a tool for simulating the surge capacity of a network of health care providers. Using the greater Chicago area as its setting, the tool will attempt to predict the availability of beds throughout the network of hospitals that serve the city and suburbs as random emergencies occur throughout the region and as historical daily surge profiles take shape. The tool will enable health care policy makers to determine how best to increase bed availability by adjusting systems and introducing new facilities. Results will be presented graphically to convey lessons clearly and quickly.