December 17, 2012 in City, Health

Changes at Sacred Heart will expedite emergency care

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Hospital information services technician William LeVan starts the process of installing computers and printers in Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s new pediatric emergency room, which opens to patients Jan. 2.
(Full-size photo)

By the numbers

Sacred Heart has seen its number of patients rise to about 100,000 a year, including about 19,000 children.

Eastern Washington’s major trauma hospital is set to open a new emergency room designed to cut wait times for patients.

The $18.6 million project at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center includes a new, separate children’s emergency center with 17 beds, along with six other beds for children and adults with psychiatric emergencies. The existing ER has been remodeled to better handle the flood of patients seeking care.

The new building is siren red and features a kids’ clubhouse, coffee shop and atrium. Each room in the pediatric wing has an activity board for kids.

It opens Jan. 2.

Within six months of opening, the hospital will implement a practice called “split-flow” that separates patients based on the severity of illness or injury.

Robbie Thorn, director of emergency trauma services for Providence, said the changes will be implemented on the adult side first.

Split-flow is a growing trend among hospital systems.

The main goal, Thorn said, is to put patients in front of a physician as quickly as possible.

“We’ve had significant wait times and so we knew we had to address it and look at it differently,” Thorn said.

Thorn sent a team of nurse managers to tour hospitals in the Banner Health system in Phoenix to see how the practice could be implemented at Providence hospitals.

Nurse manager Sarah Lambert said the process splits the ER patients into two groups: Are you really sick, or not?

The sickest patients and those who have serious injuries go through the traditional “acute” side of the department. The other half go through the split-flow side.

On the split-flow side, the patients don’t get their own beds. They are taken into an exam room almost immediately to be seen by a physician. While the patient is waiting for lab results or treatments, they are placed back into a waiting area.

“By doing that you significantly decrease your wait times and you get them in front of a physician provider very quickly for medical evaluation, which is really important,” Lambert said.

Thorn said the biggest concern was that patients have to move between several rooms during their visit. Patients still have to wait, she said, but the peace of mind of seeing a doctor quickly offsets the downside, she said.

The split-flow also cuts the rate of patients who leave without being seen, Thorn said.

Patients will all enter the same area of the hospital, where a triage nurse will decide which side is appropriate for each patient.

The goal is to perfect the system on the adult side of the Sacred Heart ER, Thorn said, and then apply it to pediatrics if necessary, and then to Sacred Heart’s sister hospital, Holy Family.

Providence spokesman Joe Robb said the ER expansion is a response to a spike in patient numbers that has made Sacred Heart the busiest ER in the Inland Northwest. The hospital has seen its number of patients nearly double in the last five or so years, he said, to about 100,000 patients a year, including about 19,000 children. Robb said Providence’s other response to increased numbers is urgent care, another step in the continuing process of getting people out of emergency rooms who don’t need to be there.

The hospital system has plans to build an urgent care center on the Sacred Heart campus and has already broken ground on a medical park in Spokane Valley to increase availability of primary care doctors in the Providence system.

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