New Program Launched to Help Emergency Departments Relieve Crowding, Improve Health Care Delivery

"Urgent Matters" funding available for up to 10 Emergency Departments nationwide

    • September 23, 2002

As the number of annual visits, patient wait times and shortages of health professionals continue to rise in emergency departments (EDs) nationwide, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today launched a new program, Urgent Matters. The $4.6 million program is designed to reduce emergency department crowding and to assess the condition of the health care safety net (the network of providers of low cost or free medical care to people who are uninsured or underinsured). Emergency departments are a critically important component of the safety net; for many people who need medical attention, EDs may be the only accessible source of care.

"Emergency departments have a unique role in our health care system, but their capacity to provide quality care is becoming more tenuous as patient demand escalates," said Pamela Dickson, senior program officer at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "The number of uninsured patients is climbing; the population is aging and the number of professionals in the health care workforce is shrinking. These changes contribute to a growing number of people using emergency departments for medical care and increasing stress among emergency department staff."

Through the Urgent Matters program, up to 10 sites will receive technical assistance resources and grants of $125,000 each to develop plans to reduce emergency department crowding. Additional resources will be made available to assess safety net services in their surrounding area and conduct community education about safety net services and emergency department crowding. Of these 10 projects, up to four will also receive grants of up to $250,000 each to implement a specific innovation. The Urgent Matters program plans to develop web-based resources to help hospitals and the safety net nationally.

The Urgent Matters national program office will be based at George Washington University's Center for Health Services Research and Policy in the School of Public Health and Health Services. Bruce Siegel, M.D., M.P.H., research professor in the Department of Health Policy, will direct the program.

"The crowded conditions in emergency departments shine a light on the health of the safety net as a whole," said Siegel. "There aren't two separate systems of care; the viability of the entire health care delivery system depends on its ability to maintain safety net functions."

More detailed information about the application process for Urgent Matters is available in the Call for Proposals (CFP) issued today. The CFP is available on the RWJF Web site, and the program Web site, Potential grant applicants should direct any questions to Khoa Nguyen of Urgent Matters, via email at, or by telephone at 202-530-2398.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse -- tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

The George Washington University Center for Health Services Research and Policy is dedicated to providing policymakers, public health officials, health care administrators, and advocates with the information and ideas they need to improve access to quality, affordable health care. The Center's research and policy agenda reflects that goal, spanning a wide-range of timely topics related to the structure, financing and delivery of health care services.