Aiken County resident Scott Williams is concerned that he and his father were taken to Georgia Regents Medical Center instead of Aiken Regional Medical Centers in two different emergency cases in a little more than a month's time.

Williams said he was taken by ambulance to Augusta instead of Aiken in early December and on Monday, his father Luther, who delivers newspapers for the Aiken Standard, was sent to Georgia Regents Medical Center as well when he had to be transported by ambulance.

Scott Williams didn't understand why they weren't transported to Aiken Regional and was told by paramedics it was due to a diversion.

A hospital on diversion has ambulances transport patients to another facility if it's overwhelmed, among other reasons, to ensure optimal care.

Aiken Regional confirmed that it was on diversion on Monday evening because its emergency department was full. The diversion was removed the next day. The hospital did not wish to offer further comment.

Williams said he was concerned this occurred twice in a short period of time and wondered if it was a frequent pattern.

According to Georgia Regents Medical Center spokeswoman Denise Parrish, diversion is a regular practice in almost all emergency rooms.

Mark Schreiber, director of Clinical Operations at Georgia Regents Medical Center’s Emergency Department, said he doesn't recall Aiken Regional going on diversion often.

He said hospitals, including his own, divert patients if a department is at capacity or they don't have a certain resource at any given time – such as a specialist in a certain field – to handle a specific case.

James Hooper, training officer for Aiken Rescue Inc., said it's not that unusual an occurrence for any hospital. He added sometimes trauma patients or critical pediatric cases will be diverted if the hospital feels that a patient needs a higher level of care.

“It's all based on whatever the patient's condition is versus what a facility's resources are,” Hooper said.

However, depending on where the patient is picked up, diversion could potentially affect one's ambulance transport bill.

“Generally, ambulance services have a flat rate and they then charge per mile,” Hooper said. “A flat rate covers the first 10 miles of transport, so obviously if you are getting transported farther, you will be charged more.”

Schreiber said all hospitals try to limit EMS diversion as much as possible.

Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010.