Objectives: We analyzed how ease of geographic access to emergency departments (EDs), defined as driving time to the closest ED, changed between 2001 and 2005, and whether access deterioration was more likely to occur in vulnerable communities.
Methods: We classified communities on the basis of American Hospital Association and Census data into 3 categories according to driving time to the nearest ED: no increase, less than a 10-minute increase, and a 10-minute or more increase. We estimated a multinomial logit model to examine the relative risk ratio (RRR) of various community characteristics.
Results: More than 95% of communities experienced no ED access deterioration. However, 11.4 million people experienced increased driving time to their nearest ED. Low-income communities had a higher risk of facing deteriorating access compared with high-income communities (urban: RRR = 3.67; P < .01; rural: RRR = 1.75; P < .10), and communities with higher shares of Hispanics also had higher risks of facing declines (urban: RRR = 3.41; P < .10; rural: RRR = 2.67; P < .01).
Conclusions: Deteriorating access to EDs is more likely to occur in communities with economic hardship and high shares of Hispanic populations. The uneven access to critical services warrants increased attention from policymaking bodies.