Containing MERS

Staff safety in hospitals is increasingly becoming a major focus of healthcare leadership. The Community Hospital, a 445-bed hospital in Northwest Indiana, had increasing concerns about safety in the Emergency Department. The department is over 5,0002 feet, with many walls and doors. A nurse could be threatened or even assaulted while the rest of the department would carry on unaware. Leadership looked to technology to provide additional safety.

A real-time locator system was implemented to interact with the Rauland Responder Call light system already in place in the department. Staff was issued individual real-time locator tags which were attached to their employee identification badge. These locator tags were equipped with the “panic button”, which when pressed, showed Emergency Alert Alarm to security officers, directing them to the specific location within the 50002 foot department where the employee was standing. If threatened or attacked, the employees were able to depress this button and receive immediate support from the security department within seconds. An added benefit of these locator tags is their ability to interact with the Rauland Responder Call Light system, automatically signaling a nurse’s entry and exit from patient rooms, providing valuable information about patient call light answering intervals. This service enhancement was key to improving patient satisfaction about the 90th percentile.

Additional improvement was the placement of security cameras throughout every hallway in the Emergency Department. These cameras are monitored around-the-clock, providing an additional layer of safety coverage for the Emergency Department employees.

Testing Safety Measures
These safety measures were extremely valuable in May 2014, providing protection for emergency department staff, though ironically in a manner different from their original intended use. In May 2014, a patient presented to the Emergency department who ultimately was diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a before – then lesser known disease from Saudi Arabia. This patient presenting to hospital was the first patient to be hospitalized with MERS in the United States.

At that time in Saudi Arabia, one of every three MERS patients died, so anxieties were at an all-time high in the emergency department and across the hospital. By accessing the locator tag records as well as the security video footage, the hospital management team was able to determine, in roughly 45 minutes, specifically who was and who was not exposed to the MERS patient. This information was used to quarantine these employees.

The exposure information was critical to the success of the hospital team in dealing with operations disruption in the hospital and panic in the general public. The knowledge of specifically who was exposed to the patient quelled fears of massive outbreaks due to casual exposure to the MERS patient. Concerns from the general public were quickly calmed; patients and visitors dealing with the hospital during the same general timeframe that the MERS patient was being treated were rightfully worried about being exposed to the deadly virus.

SEE ALSO: Emergent Microbial Threats

Close Contacts
Thanks to the video footage and locator tags, hospital leadership was able to directly contact each individual who was in contact with the MERS patient, and provided them with all supportive measures possible to deal with their exposure. This turn-key quarantine reduced the possibility of MERS spread, and helped eliminate unnecessary public panic.

In concert with State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control medical leadership, further testing was implemented which ultimately provided these employees with a clean bill of health. No further patients or employees tested positive for MERS, and the hospital was able to receive strong commendations from Indiana Governor Mike Pence as well as positive local and national news coverage.

Safe Working Environments
In addition to providing very accurate and specific information about potential exposure to MERS, the security features have enabled the department to provide an injury-free work environment for staff since installation. Security has been able to proactively monitor the department and “check in” on lively patient and family interactions before the situations escalate to violence. The success of the Emergency Department has enabled the hospital to expand coverage of these technologies throughout the hospital, expanding the safety protection to all employees.

John Olmstead is the director of surgical services and the emergency department at Community Hospital in Munster, Ind.

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