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Ahead of the competition: SWMC emergency department stacks up well nationally

WORTHINGTON — Nationally, patients who visit emergency rooms have quite the wait.

At Sanford Worthington Medical Center, that wait isn’t quite as long.

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“We have great people that are invested in their jobs because it is all about quality,” said Jennifer Weg, Chief Nursing Officer in Worthington. “In the ED (emergency department), what does quality mean? No. 1 is how long does it take in the emergency room.”

In a report compiled of numbers supplied to the government, the national average for waiting time in an emergency department before being seen by a doctor is 29 minutes. In Worthington, the average is 28, according to data by ProPublica.

More recently, that number is closer to 20 minutes.

“We have a great team of people. It’s always about the people,” Weg said. “Who is in there are the technicians here at the hospital and the doctors. We always think of the emergency department as the nurses, so it’s those, too. It’s everybody, really. It’s the switchboard and the registration people. It’s all part of the process.”

In Worthington, an average of 6,500 patients come through the emergency department on an annual basis.

“It’s the front door to the hospital,” said Sarah Griesse, Nurse Manager of the Emergency Department. “Who we see here is who ends up as inpatients. As a small community, we take care of our community members.

“You recognize faces,” Griesse said. “It’s the extra compassion and care put into taking care of our patients and providing them with the quality of care we care so much about. It’s a big deal for us.”

On average, the ED sees 550 people per month — or about 18 per day.

“They don’t all come one and the next one and the next one,” Weg said. “We do have processes in place so that we determine who is most severe injury or illness and they have the priority. We make sure everybody is checked out, but then the less severe patient might have to wait longer.”

Nationally, the average time patients spend in the emergency room before being sent home is two hours, 17 minutes. In the state, it’s two hours, four minutes. In Worthington, it’s one hour, 35 minutes. 

The national average for time patients spend in the emergency room before being admitted to the hospital is four hours, 35 minutes. The state average (3 hours, 19 minutes) and Worthington (two hours, 58 minutes) are both lower. 

“The other thing on the front side of what helps our timing scores is the ambulance,” Weg said. “If they go out to the call, they do the first assessment — they call back to the emergency room and work with the ED doctor, and so we already know there is a patient with this problem coming in. ‘Are we prepared? Are we ready? Let’s get to it.’” 

Among patients admitted, the additional time they spend waiting before being taken to their room is one hour, 37 minutes on a national scale. In Minnesota, the average is one hour. In Worthington, it’s 20 minutes. 

The average time a patient with a broken bone had to wait to receive pain medication is 59 minutes nationally. Within Minnesota, the average is 47 minutes. Worthington’s average is 38 minutes.

“That is a lot of what emergency department is — pain,” Weg said. “That’s what drives somebody to come to see a medical provider. So when they get there, it takes time. You have to register, tell the nurse your problems, tell the doctor — you have to go through the allergies. There takes an element of time, but really once the patient arrives to the emergency department, their first thought is ‘get rid of this pain.’ We’re on board with that, too, and that is a priority of staff.”

While both Weg and Griesse were pleased with the numbers, more improvement can be done, they agreed.

“We have a person in our quality department — she collects all these scores,” Weg said. “We don’t wait for the government to tell us how we did on comparison. We collect these every three months. We report it to our local doctors as well as administration and give it back to nurses to say, ‘Now we’re 20 minutes to pain management, how are we going to get to 15?’ We’re always looking at the scores and engaging in improvement for the results.”

Improving also includes the hiring of Martin Fedko.

“Dr. Fedko is our new emergency department medical director,” Weg said. “He started in June. He’s our physician champion to make sure we’re looking at the quality scores as well as how to make it better for the patient.”

If too much time is needed, Griesse and the staff will review the reasoning.

“If we go above the amount of time we’ve decided as a group, I delve into those charts a little closer and see what happened,” Griesse said. “If it’s a process improvement we can make, then Dr. Fedko and I look into it. I talk to the nursing staff and he talks to the physicians.

“Like Jennifer said, we have excellent nursing staff, and we have 15 core nurses that are very dedicated to their job. We have certified nurses and they take part in any additional education opportunities that they can. They stay current on the protocols and the current standard of care.”

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.