Children's hospital access center stays on the pulse of emergency room crowding

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 6:33 PM

DALLAS -- A dark room, filled with computers and big screen monitors, is the engine of Children's Medical Center Dallas.

"It's a call center, air traffic control, and incident command," said Sandra McDermott, director of the hospital's access center.

Here, on a wall of monitors and information screens, officials can track ambulances, patient transfers, weather, and available beds as a means of managing Dallas' largest children's hospital.

"We're able to determine each unit, and how many beds that are clean, that are dirty, that have patients still in it, that we're anticipating another patient coming to that room," explained director Regina Thompson.

Day and night, administrative supervisors manage and juggle the some 600 beds inside both the Dallas and Plano facilities. Officials can also see, minute by minute, other North Texas hospitals' capacity.

Monday morning, one had self-reported its emergency room at disaster level, several others listed themselves as overcrowded. Not since the H1N1 swine flu outbreak have North Texas hospital systems been this taxed, officials said.

"Everybody is at capacity," McDermott said. "Everybody is using all their available resources. That's what that tells me."

The center operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week on emergency power, if needed, to make sure the hospital continues to operate smoothly.

Because of unprecedented patient volumes, but Parkland and Children's in Dallas are limiting visitation by children younger than 12. In fact, at Children's only one parent is allowed in the emergency room because they have so many sick people.

Health authorities hope the efforts they are taking treat the ill and keep the healthy well.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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