ER shutdown affects nearby hospitals

February 12, 2009 6:23:47 PM PST
The closure of valley medical center's ER had a ripple effect on emergency care in the South Bay.SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

The closure of valley medical center's ER had a ripple effect on emergency care in the South Bay.

But a county-wide plan to handle emergency cases was launched, to make up for that temporary closure. And years of planning kicked in to care for patients.

It was already a busy morning at O'Connor Hospital. Seven nurses and one physician suddenly found themselves taking in one patient from the Yucca Avenue house and four police officers exposed to a yet-unknown substance.

But the rush didn't end there.

Santa Clara County has three designated trauma centers ? Stanford, Valley Medical Centers and Regional Medical Center of San Jose.

And when Valley Medical Center feared contamination, four its patients were diverted to O'Connor Hospital, one mile away.

"These are patients who were being seen or taken care of in the emergency department but because of what was going on, they felt they had to transfer to other facilities," said emergency room physician Dr. Marco Randazzo.

O'Connor quickly found 11 out of its 13 emergency treatment rooms filled. Two of those rooms are tailor made for contamination cases.

"We have what we call negative pressure rooms. We have two rooms that are completely isolated. So patients that are potential exposure risks are placed in those rooms," said Dr. Randazzo.

That briefly put O'Connor in a position of having no capacity to accept additional emergencies. It's called "going red."

Ambulances are asked to divert emergency patients to other hospitals.

"Hospitals sometimes go red because they have a very high volume, they have a lot of ambulance traffic, and they need 20 minutes, 30 minutes, to kind of clear out that logjam out of their ER," said Leslie Kelsay from the Regional Medical Center of San Jose.

Regional Medical Center of San Jose also took in several patients diverted by Valley Medical Center.

Back at O'Connor, Dr. Randazzo understands the challenge of large-scale incidents. He was a San Francisco paramedic before training to be a physician.

He says regular county-wide training exercises to prepare for days like today make a difference.

"They have mock chemical exposures, mock disasters, and during those events, the physicians, the nurses, the paramedics. They all have an opportunity to test their skills and figure out where might be potential problems that we can avoid those problems," said Dr. Randazzo.

And every real-life experience helps them prepare for the next one.

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