Diaries Magazine

Yep, It Was a Disaster

By Torontoemerg

Nurse K had an interesting take on my blog post the other day about dealing with an over-crowded ED: it was a disaster, pure and simple:

In short [she writes] if, really truly, your hospital is using 25/27 beds for admits and there is no way to transfer them out or transferring would be significantly delayed and six critically-ill people are coming in via ambulance…I don’t care what’s going on or what country you’re in, that’s a disaster. Seriously.  If this is your hospital, and people are being shitmonkeys and refusing to assist you, start busting out the triage tags.  Page every administrator out there.  Say you have a disaster and are starting your Disaster Code.  Maybe someone will cancel a meeting if the media starts calling.

I’m not sure if she’s fisking me, engaging in some not-so-gentle mockery, or using my post to buttress her conceptions about the nature of Canadian health care: referring to the Canadian public system as commie-pinko-socialist is probably a clue. In any case the point is taken: it was a disaster. It’s an ongoing disaster. It’s funny how sometimes it takes someone outside the situation to point out the obvious.

I will say, however, that Nurse K’s suggestion to implement the disaster plan — in Ontario, known as a “Code Orange”" — isn’t feasible. In my hospital, at least, it’s a decision that needs to be made jointly amongst the charge, the manager and the ED physician, and  in any case tends to be reserved for external mass-casualty disasters, like busloads of HIV-positive haemophiliacs crashing on the 401, not for severe hospital-induced multi-system dysfunction. So what’s a harrassed, stressed-out charge nurse to do?

Nothing. Get all rowdy with equally harassed and stressed out bed flow managers. That’s about it.

The point is that at my hospital and at many others there is no plan.

Why? Because 1) we cope, and 2) hospital administrators see emergency department over-crowding as “normal”, intractable, and somehow not a serious hospital problem. Both are wrong. We do cope, but we carry on in way an over-heating engine run for a while before it finally seizes up and stops functioning. Sick time and turnover are increasing: not a sign of a well-functioning department. And the problem is fixable. I know the Ministry of Health is working, albeit slowly, on long-term solutions. But somehow, it isn’t better knowing various health officials, flaks and functionaries are busily at work introducing systemic reforms when the problems are much more immediate. If I can think of four or five ways to improve flow of admitted patients out of the ED without even opening new beds or breaking into a sweat, then surely it’s not beyond the grasp of hospital management. All it takes is will and prioritization — which sadly seems to be lacking.

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