The Big Numbers for Cold and Flu Season
It’s winter. Hospitals across the nation are on “Yellow Alert” — patients are flooding in faster than the staff can manage. Under these conditions, patients are sent to less crowded hospitals. In our region, all hospitals are part of the County/Hospital Alert Tracking System, which gives emergency medical technicians access to hospital alerts. This way, patients are taken to the hospital that can treat them the fastest.
During the holiday season, which coincides with flu season, AAMC, like all other hospitals in the region, had to go on Yellow Alert, which meant it took longer than the current goals of the ED to treat all the sick patients.
ED Supervisor Peggy Jones, RN, said the combination of virus-related illnesses, upper respiratory infections, snow and ice hazards and holiday mishaps created a bottleneck for the whole region, from Baltimore to Washington, with ambulances scrambling to find a hospital bed for sick patients. On December 26, 2000, 198 patients were treated at the ED within a 24-hour period — the most ED patients in its history. But it didn’t end there. On January 1, 2001, 204 people were treated within a 24-hour period, setting a new record. From January 2, 2001 until this printing, the ED has averaged 185 patients per day! The previous average number of ED visits per day was 138.
“When we activate pre-yellow alert, which is an internal mechanism to decompress the ED, the entire hospital helps out. Admitting personnel assign hospital beds (when available) within 15 minutes, stretchers and wheelchairs are delivered to the ED from other areas of the hospital and housekeeping cleans rooms as soon as they are vacated to give us more beds,” she said. “It becomes a team effort across all disciplines and departments.”
Nevertheless, days that had a record high numbers of patients meant longer waits for many of those people. Jones said the ED personnel appreciated the patience of all of those who found themselves in the waiting room on those days. “People could look around and see how busy we were, and I hope they all understood,” she said. “I also hope they understand that if they find themselves in the ED in a less hectic time, they will be treated much faster.”
The ED prides itself on having a 95 percent patient satisfaction for the last two quarters of 2000, and a 99 percent patient satisfaction for the Fast Track in the ED. Fast Track is for patients with uncomplicated injuries and ailments, such as minor lacerations and sprains. Most of that satisfaction comes from getting patients treated quickly, says Emergency Department Medical Director Kenneth Gummerson, MD. He said, “Our goal is to have Fast Track patients in and out within one hour, more serious ED patients treated and released within two hours, and patients who need to be admitted in a hospital room within three hours.”
New procedures in the ED have created an efficient system where those goals are well within reach. A few years ago the hospital changed its policy in order to make sure a patient is in a bed and sees a doctor before going through all the paper work. Dr. Gummerson said, “The paper work can come later. People didn’t come here to fill out insurance forms and sit in a waiting room. We try to have a patient in a bed within five minutes.”