As can be expected in a popular tourism community where they're also the only shop in town, the Emergency Departments of Cape Cod and Falmouth Hospitals are almost always among the busiest in the state if not-as in the case of Cape Cod Hospital-No. 1.
But it was somewhat striking when statistics compiled by the parent Cape Cod Healthcare revealed that each of these facilities set records for treating patients during the past summer season.
Falmouth Hospital showed a modest increase of two percent or 272 additional patients to 12,062 during the months of June, July and August.
The increase at Cape Cod Hospital was more striking, 941 more patients treated representing a four percent boost to 26,300. The total for Cape Cod Hospital's ER in 2004 was 23,256, a two-year swing of more than 3,000.
The department heads say they can't pinpoint a specific cause for the increases except to say a growing population created more potential patients. However, the Cape's year-round population growth has pretty much leveled off and, in fact, showed a slight decrease at last count. But, on the other hand, a growing immigrant population tends to create added strain on emergency facilities.
Both agreed they're treating pretty much the same types of problems.
Falmouth Hospital showed its biggest jump in July, almost 300 cases, and Dr. Herb Gray, who heads the Emergency Department, believes that our massive heat weave that month could have been a contributing factor.
"When you turn the heat up, molecules start bumping into each other. It's the same with people," Dr. Gray noted, "The heat wave around July Fourth did bump up our volume; not tremendously, but significantly."
Dr. Kevin Bresnahan, who heads Cape Cod Hospital's Emergency Department, said the Cape's increasing shortage of primary care physicians also might be a factor, sending more year-round residents to the ER in addition to the usual transient summer population of tourists and workers.
Basically, he said, "Most of the problems involve traumatic injuries. It's people out there having fun and running into mishaps."
One thing fairly certain, he added, emergency medicine on the Cape probably will continue to be a growth industry.