They are a time for speed and expertise.
That is the mission behind the SkyRidge Medical Center and surgical tower which opened for service five years ago.
It is a part of SkyRidge all who work there have taken great pride in being able to offer.
The phrase “production line” would be too impersonal to attach to the experience of being treated in the facility.
But, the whole idea is to get you there fast, get you diagnosed fast and get you treated fast.
The facility was built with emergency in mind — even to the extent of having the staff who work there giving their input and working with Bradley County EMS on the design of the doors through which patients are transferred from ambulance to treatment.
“We were actually quite honored to be asked to help with some of this vision, as far as the ambulance entrance,” said Stan Clark, EMS paramedic. “It is very much now a coordinated effort.”
Most emergencies start with the ambulance ride and technology now virtually assures when one is in an ambulance, one is essentially “in” the hospital itself, lacking only the hands-on care of physicians.
A grand tour of one of these mobile medical units shows an impressive range of both supplies and technologies.
“The main thing here is the Lifeline 15,” he said. “This piece of equipment can monitor your heart, do an EKG, and the best feature is it can send those readings to the emergency doctor.”
That means a doctor at the hospital can see the readings in real time.
“If the doctor sees the patient is having a heart attack, this is going to diagnosis it and everybody gets on the same page and the treatment begins in the field,” Clark said. ‘That is actually saving lives, because we’re diagnosing cardiac events in the field on the way to the hospital whereas 10 years ago, you would treat them, take them to the hospital and hope for the best.”
He said the technology has improved so greatly it is “exciting because it allows us to interface with the hospital more.”
“I’m excited to see what may be available in the next decade,” Clark said.
Both the EMS and SkyRidge are taking the opportunity to focus on the “Stay Alive, Don’t Drive” program which encourages anyone who thinks they may be having some type of heart situation to call 911.
“When people call the ambulance, they are going to get state-of-the-art care immediately upon our arrival,” Clark said. “You see what happens when people try to drive having a heart attack. They end up wrecking their car and possibly doing damage or endangering other lives.
“I know we have the best-trained EMS and paramedics. We have state-of-the-art equipment and try to stay on top of the newest techniques and equipment,” Clark said.
Once the EMS has done its job, you find yourself entering the ambulance bay and going through the doors at SkyRidge, and there is no disconnect as that transfer occurs.
As soon as you enter those doors, you are immediately surrounded by medical professionals who are already armed with much of the necessary information about your condition.
Those professionals can treat just about anything and, should surgery be necessary, the needed surgeons and operating theaters are only steps away.
“Since this opened five years ago, we’ve brought in a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, specialists fellowship trained surgeons for the spine, sports medicine, cardiologists ... all from the time we launched this surgical tower,” said Christina Lassila, SkyRidge nurse manager.
For those with the more common “emergencies,” there are about 80 chairs in the waiting area.
“One of the unique features to SkyRidge’s ER is that we were the first in the area having a nurse at our presentation desk,” Lassila said.
She said most facilities only have a registration clerk, but as busy as SkyRidge’s ER is, the feeling was there was a need to have someone medically trained, with a license, stationed up front 24/7.
“It’s been that way for the past three years,” Lassila said. “It has been a major benefit for us to be able to keep an eye on patients as they are waiting to get taken back. If someone starts getting worse, there is a highly trained nurse right there to say someone needs more immediate attention.”
Lasilla said there is an effort to keep those waiting as informed as possible, “as soon as we are able to do so.”
“Many times, it’s a matter of getting a patient back, getting them stabilized or getting treatment started, and then we’ll allow family to come back,” she said. “But, there is limited space so we try to limit it to two persons at a time. The main focus is providing excellent care for that patient.”
She said part of that care is providing for the waiting family.
“If you’ve ever waited in an ER, five minutes can seem like 65 minutes,” she said. “That’s where the nurse out front can communicate to the back and hopefully expedite that information flow.”
She said in a CPR situation, there is a staff member who remains with the family explaining what is happening.
The imaging department is also state-of-the art, with a 64-Slice CT scanner.
And, the ER experience at SkyRidge is one about family.
“We treat everyone as if they were a member of our family,” Lassila said.
When the ER/Surgical Tower opened, SkyRidge talked about also expanding its physician services, and that is now happening with the addition of a neurologist.
“The ER is the face of this hospital,” said SkyRidge CEO Coleman Foss. “That’s true for any hospital. Most interactions we have with the public are through the ER. At any given time, 65 to 70 percent of the patients have come through the emergency room. It absolutely is the front door to the hospital.”
The tools now available to medical professionals actually almost ensure better and more thorough training, officials said.
“Nursing has changed,” said Bernadette De Prez, SkyRidge’s chief operating officer. “You not only have to be empathetic and be comfortable with your medical skills and your assessment skills, you also have to be a technician of sorts. You have to understand how to use the equipment to arrive at a diagnosis.
DePrez said it is “a continuing education” for the nurses who serve at SkyRidge.
Foss said the level of equipment used for diagnosing is at a very high level, but there are still those who wonder why a patient may find their stays longer in an ER than the doctor’s office.
“There are so many more resources we are bringing. Our job is to try to find out what’s wrong with that patient. We bring a huge battery of tests that a physician’s office is not necessarily going to have,” Foss said.
He adds that is not necessarily the case for every patient where the diagnosis may be more obvious.
Foss said the protocol for how people are treated in the ER is “foreign to those who believe whoever is next in line goes next,” citing the concept of triage.
“Whoever is the sickest in line goes next at the hospital,” Foss said.
SkyRidge was “ecstatic” when the ER/Surgical Tower opened five years ago, but more is planned.
“It’s been so successful,” Foss said. “With the addition of our neurologist, we will be able to manage strokes better than we’ve able been to before. He’s very well trained.”
DePrez said there is so much to offer as a community, physicians are “blown away.”
“Sometimes living in your own community, you don’t realize the jewel you have. When they come in from the outside and they tour here, they say, ‘Wow! We didn’t know you had this kind of facility in Cleveland, Tennessee,’” DePrez said.
Foss said the hospital is constantly getting letters from people all over the country who have found the services of the ER necessary and were astounded by what they encountered.
“What we have here is not run-of-the-mill,” Foss said.
DePrez said the search for improvement is ongoing.
“We have a safety huddle every morning at 9,” she said. “We share information and ideas and are always looking to be better. That’s the key. Listen to your patients. Listen to the doctors. That’s what makes us better.”
Foss said the biggest challenge for the hospital, “very candidly, is the obstacle of fighting the ghosts of the past.”
“We’ve got people who say their aunt was here in 1987 and it was a horrible experience,” Foss said. “We get letters all the time that say they didn’t want to come in, but were pleasantly surprised.”
He said the patient satisfaction surveys are very high, “but they hang on to some of those past experiences.”
Foss said SkyRidge handles 50,000 ER visits a year.
“Only Erlanger sees more than we do in East Tennessee,” he said. “It’s a high-volume ER. We are going to do comprehensive diagnostic testing. We don’t want anybody walking out of here saying we missed something.”
He said the competency of the staff “is outstanding and [everyone is] very well trained.”
“We’re blessed in this community with this medical staff,” Foss said.
“We’re not perfect, but we hit the mark way more than we miss the mark,” he said. “Seven years ago when I got here, I would say the majority of letters I got were negative. I don’t get that many negative letters anymore.”
He said he would have no worries putting his life in the hands of the SkyRidge staff.
“If I fall over at my desk, I would have absolute confidence in the staff we have here to take care of me,” Foss said.
He said the top priority on the SkyRidge organizational chart is patients.
“They know if we were friendly and kind and helping with the process. We don’t want a nurse who is outstanding clinically, but horrible with the patient. Nor do we want just the opposite. The answer to who we want is both of those,” Foss said. “That’s true for any person throughout this hospital.”