Health & Medicine

UK eases ER experience for kids

It was a typical Friday night in the University of Kentucky Hospital emergency room - the adult waiting room was full, the trauma bays were busy and the wait was long.

But not for Jada Hendron.

Thanks to a new pediatric emergency room at UK, the 2-year-old and her mom waited less than 30 minutes, even though doctors had several other serious cases on their hands.

Already that night, one kid had come in after a bicycle accident with fluid on his abdomen. A teenager had hit his head in an ATV accident. Another boy had fallen and hit his head, and a CAT scan showed blood putting pressure on his brain. When he couldn't talk, he was rushed to the operating room.

Jada had a sore on her thigh. Her mother and grandmother were afraid it was MRSA, the staph infection that has been in the news lately.

Before UK remodeled its emergency room and created the separate section for kids, patients like Jada would have waited hours for care.

But now the ER has a section dedicated to kids. The rooms have smaller beds, flat-screen TVs and heavy doors that close and block out the noise of the emergency room.

Next week, the hospital will celebrate the grand opening of its Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Care Center.

It's a work in progress. The treatment area opened in September. The separate waiting room was finished in December. The ocean-themed decorations, including a virtual fish tank, haven't arrived.

Neither have the X-Box 360s — the video games that will be installed in the rooms.

But the difference for kids and parents has been apparent for months: Shorter wait times and treatment away from the chaos of the adult emergency room.

“The medical care the children got was always excellent,” said Dr. Craig Carter, medical director of the emergency room. “But they were literally lying in the hallway.”

Children were being treated next to gunshot victims and drunk college students who needed stitches.

And if a child had a broken bone that needed to be set, the wait could be as long as 12 hours.

Setting a bone in a child requires sedation, Carter said. And the only place to sedate a child was in one of the emergency room's four trauma bays.

Now the emergency room has a pediatric sedation room.

It also has dedicated staff. Carter is board-certified in pediatric medicine and emergency medicine. The nurses assigned to the unit have either pediatric training or experience with children.

UK is in the process of recruiting a second pediatric ER physician.

More changes coming

The renovated pediatric ER is only the first step. UK plans to open a new emergency room in the summer of 2010, in time for the World Equestrian Games, said Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at UK.

The new pediatric ER will be part of an emergency room four times the size of the current one. The pediatric section will have a separate entrance, a separate triage area and a separate waiting room.

In the meantime, UK has spent $3 million renovating its emergency room because it couldn't wait for the new hospital.

“We're literally bursting at the seams,” Carter said.

UK has one of the state's two level I trauma centers. It saw 46,000 patients last year; 10,000 were children.

The renovation added 10 adult beds, six pediatric beds and two beds that can be used for adults or children. It now has a total of 40 beds.

UK is not the only hospital expanding its pediatric emergency care. St. Joseph East, which operates an evening emergency pediatric clinic called Kid Traxx, plans to expand its hours as soon as it hires a second physician, said spokesman Jeff Murphy.

Calming the chaos

Before UK renovated, the chaos of the emergency room could be bad for a child.

When her daughter Kelli was 13, Sheila David brought her to UK for a temporary breathing problem.

The lady sitting next to them had been in a car accident. Her leg was in traction, and she'd been drinking. “And she's screaming every profanity in the book,” David recalled.

Another nearby patient, a teenager, had been in a paint-ball accident. Then there was an older woman whose stomach was being pumped.

Her daughter was scared, David said. “She's not only scared of her breathing, she's scared of what's going on around her.”

The next Monday, David called UK to see what could be done.

David runs the Makenna Foundation, which was formed to remember David's daughter Makenna, who died of a rare lung disease in 1998.

The foundation raises money for Kentucky Children's Hospital at UK and has pledged $1 million for the new pediatric ER.

A pediatric ER shelters kids, David said.

“The kids come in panicked anyway,” David said. “They need someplace calm.”

Jada's room was calm as she waited for an ointment to numb the sore on her leg. When the doctors came in to drain it, she was asleep, sucking on a bright green pacifier as SpongeBob SquarePants played on TV.

Using a needle, Carter and Saba Memon, a resident, opened the wound and pressed on it.

Jada cried in her sleep and then woke up. Within seconds, the doctors were done. Memon grabbed a stuffed bunny and handed it to the girl.

“My bunny,” she said through her tears.