Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007

Emergency Center growing strong

Shady Grove Adventist facility sees more patients than expected, helps reduce hospital load

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Registered Nurse Cathy Lanham draws blood from a patient at the Shady Grove Adventist Emergency Center in Germantown on Friday.
Just one year into operation, Germantown’s Shady Grove Adventist Emergency Center has surpassed projected patient visits by more than 20 percent and hospital leaders foresee growth by the day.

The center was expected to see 61 patients a day by its one-year anniversary, but hit that number last October, just two months after opening. The center currently sees an average of 78 patients a day, according to Rebecca Vasse, director of emergency services for the center and its parent, Rockville’s Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

That’s not all. The upcounty emergency center has reduced turnaround time for the county Fire and Rescue Services by more than half, allowing rescue crews more time in upcounty communities, said Mike McAdams, the service’s chief of emergency medical services.

And, hospital administrators say, the state-of-the-art satellite center has also reduced the number of patients being seen at Shady Grove hospital’s emergency room, officially the state’s second busiest in 2004.

‘‘The average patient stay here is a little over two hours,” said Vasse. ‘‘If you’re talking about a minor patient injury – you’ve fallen, you’ve twisted your ankle, you cut your wrist, whatever — it can be 90 minutes.”

By design, Fire and Rescue brings upcounty residents with lesser injuries or ailments to the Germantown center and transports all more serious patients straight to Shady Grove hospital or another hospital. Walk-ins to Germantown write their own story.

‘‘When we initially opened, we expected to see essentially low acuity or non-emergency patients, but it quickly became clear that everybody was finding us,” said Dr. Michael Cetta, an emergency physician who served as the center’s medical director until July 31. ‘‘On the minor side, of course, we see earaches and splinters. On the more serious side, we see everything from heart attacks to ruptured spleens.”

About 8 percent of patients arriving at Germantown emergency center are later hospitalized, according to hospital data. Shared staff and shared medical records offer the Germantown facility transparency with Shady Grove hospital’s emergency room.

‘‘We can get a patient from here to the [the operating room] as fast as we can do it from the hospital because we’re not competing with lab, we’re not competing with ER patients and outpatients,” Vasse said.

The Maryland General Assembly approved immediate construction of the Germantown emergency center in spring 2005 following outcry from the community and hospital administrators.

Population growth and ballooning traffic often meant difficulty getting to certain hospitals at certain times of the day from the upcounty, Pamela Barclay, director of hospital services for the Maryland Health Care Commission, said this week.

Legislators and hospital administration agreed to test a new freestanding upcounty facility that would provide urgent care for low-acuity patients. If successful, similar facilities could appear around the state.

A second pilot project is planned but not yet open in Queen Anne’s County, an area facing similar growth and traffic, Barclay said.

Based on data from Germantown, the commission is considering what times patients arrive, when they’re discharged, where they live and how they travel, Barclay said. In December, the independent state regulatory agency will issue a report to the Assembly to help legislators understand what types of patients are visiting the freestanding emergency facility and the impact it has on emergency care.

About 40 percent of the center’s visitors last year were pediatrics patients, Vasse said, but that may change too when new highway signs go up and advertising increases.

‘‘We haven’t marketed it yet,” said Vasse. ‘‘We haven’t had to market it because the patients have been here.”