Breaking Brown

March 17, 2016

Heart Attacks May Be Killing More Black People Because of Ambulances Being Diverted

Heart Attacks May Be Killing More Black People Because of Ambulances Being Diverted

African-Americans die of heart attacks at a higher rate than their white counterparts, a fact researchers have been aware of for years. Usually this is considered a consequence of poor health habits such as lack of exercise and poor diet. However, researchers have determined another reason behind the increased number of heart attack deaths among African-Americans.

Getting immediate care after a heart attack is essential to survival. Researchers found that African-Americans are more likely to have their ambulances diverted, lessening their chances for survival.

“Cardiologists often say that time is muscle, or time is heart tissue,” said ER doctor Renee Hsia, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, and co-author of the study. “When you have a clot, every minute matters. Even if you don’t die right away, you have a poorer heart over the long term.”

From Mother Jones:

Researchers found that California hospitals with the highest share of black patients exceeded emergency room capacity more frequently than other hospitals, which forces them to reroute ambulances carrying overflow patients to other medical facilities. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health and published in the medical journal BMJ Open, reviewed data on medical emergency services in 26 California counties serving nearly 30,000 patients between 2001 and 2011.


This rerouting process, known as ambulance diversion, can lead to life-threatening delays in treatment for time-sensitive medical emergencies like heart attacks and increases the likelihood that patients will die, the authors say.

Hsia says even though the study is limited to California, it likely impacts other states as well.

African-Americans, who are disproportionately poorer than non-whites, also lack access to preventative care.


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