Healthwise: Weathering Winter Injuries

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

February 10, 2010

Slick roads this winter make accident scenes fairly common.

"We've been dealing with all the different weather issues that come up -- the H1N1, the snow, and the sleet, and just being able to meet the needs of patients in the community in general," said Kim Lowry, nurse manager of emergency services at Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Emergency room staff have seen spurts of activity this winter.

"We've had some real volume surges, especially with H1N1," said Janet Silvester, director of pharmacy and emergency services. "With the snowstorms, we see surges before and after the storm, so people are smart and try not to come in here if they don't really need to in the middle of the storm."

In the middle of a storm, they may actually see fewer patients.

"What we don't see in the middle of the storm is as much of the routine daily aches and pains that people come to the ER to be seen for," Silvester said. "It becomes the more serious things, so the total volume can be less."

However, the nature of the illness inside the emergency room is directly related to the weather outside.

"We have seen an increase in patients who have had snow-related illnesses, car accidents, minor vehicle accidents, falls, shoveling with chest pain and those types of things," Lowry said.

As it turns out, they were equipped to handle it. They are using their wait-time reduction strategy.

"When you come in, we want to see you right away and take you back to the back right away so that you can be treated as soon as possible," Silvester said.

They reviewed and mapped out their triage process, their way of sorting through and responding to patients based on the severity of the problem. They increased nurse staff. The success of the policy can be seen in the waiting room of the ER -- it's empty.

"Because all of them are back being taken care of and seen by our nursing staff," Lowry said. "We have been able to actually maintain that through all of these storm systems that we have seen and H1N1."

Staffing through the snowstorms has been successful, too.

"On every major snow occurrence, we have staff that comes in, plans to be here, packs a bag, and are here three or four days at a time to meet our community's needs, so they've done a really great job with that," Lowry said.

When the snow finally finishes, they can expect another boom.

"When the storm is over, we can bank on having a pretty busy [emergency department]," Silvester said.

They say they are ready to weather this winter that doesn't seem will ever end.

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