by Robin Kemp

Southern Regional Medical Center is not taking ambulance traffic as of press time Tuesday morning. However, that does not mean the emergency room is not seeing patients.

Is the emergency room closed?

No.

Some news organizations are incorrectly reporting that people should use this information to decide where to take family members in an emergency. The purpose of the Georgia Coordinating Center status report is solely to direct ambulance traffic.

The Georgia Coordinating Center urges people, “If you have a medical emergency and need assistance, please DIAL 911. The Georgia Coordinating Center (GCC) is ONLY for use by EMS personnel and hospitals.”

People experiencing a medical emergency should call 911 first. Doing so allows trained E911 operators to direct trained first responders to help stabilize those patients before transporting them to the nearest available emergency room.

For example, if someone suffers a gunshot wound, they could bleed to death in minutes without proper care. Knowing first aid and calling 911 are critical to survival. Driving to the ER without stopping the bleeding could be a mistake. Paramedics and EMTs can work on a patient while other teammates relay information to the ER and drive. Also, not all emergency rooms are appropriate for all cases. Some ERs are not equipped for major trauma cases, for example.

What is the Georgia Coordinating Center?

The GCC is a system that allows hospitals to compare notes with ambulances and with each other as to the flow of patient traffic through different areas. Its function is similar to that of the air traffic control tower at Hartsfield-Jackson.

What is NEDOCS?

The NEDOCS score, which is a proprietary method for calculating patient flow, uses several factors to calculate the impact on a hospital at a given time. It does not show whether or not a hospital emergency room is “closed.”

It takes into account:

  • the number of published emergency department beds available for patient care
  • the number of hospital beds
  • how many patients are in the emergency department (including those in hallways, wheelchairs, or in normal beds)
  • how many emergency department patients are on ventilators
  • the longest wait in hours to admit a patient
  • how many people in the emergency department have been admitted
  • how many hours the last patient had to wait in the emergency room before being called

All those elements go into calculating whether a hospital emergency room can take more ambulance traffic at that moment.

According to NEDOCS, “the surge plan is not an emergency contingent plan, but a daily operation plan intertwined with other processes.” Departments throughout the hospital use it to keep each other informed about patient flow. When one department is slammed, “All team leaders are responsible for flexing resources in their departments when data point to (a) bottleneck in a particular area.”

The system also gives hospital staff a heads-up as to changing needs throughout the day–for example, whether to cancel elective surgeries or to have charge nurses provide direct patient care.

While the color-coded blocks on the webpage offer a visual guide to the state of patient flow, they do not indicate whether or not a particular emergency room has stopped seeing patients.

Southern Regional has 46 emergency beds and treats about 60,000 patients each year, according to the hospital’s Emergency Services page.

When should I bring myself or someone else to the emergency room?

The hospital says this is when you should go to the emergency room:

Call 911 or immediately go to an emergency room when someone is experiencing the following:

  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Sudden numbness or weakness
  • Sudden inability to see, speak, walk or move
  • Confusion or changes in mental state
  • Fever with convulsions, or fever in a child 3 months old or younger
  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Blood in the urine or bloody diarrhea
  • Severe headache or head injury
  • Intense abdominal pain

If you or a loved one are not certain if a visit to the emergency room is necessary, please go to your nearest ER for an evaluation.

Is it safe to go to the emergency room right now?

Here’s what Southern Regional says:

The emergency room is the best place to be when timely medical care is required. It is important to treat serious medical conditions promptly before they worsen and become life-threatening. For many medical emergencies like heart attack and stroke, quick treatment can be the difference between life and death.

The risk of contracting COVID-19 in the ER is extremely low. Our team is taking precautions to keep the ER as safe as possible including limiting visitors, mask wearing, increased cleaning and disinfecting and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Will I be tested for COVID-19 at the hospital?

In a word, yes. However, you should NOT go to the emergency room just to get a COVID-19 test. You can go to many other places, like the Clayton County Health Department, pharmacies, or pop-up testing sites to get a COVID-19 test. Here’s what Southern Regional says:

Your care team will evaluate your symptoms to determine whether you need a COVID test. Please let your care team know if you are experiencing COVID symptoms such as fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, diarrhea, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache, and/or nausea or vomiting.

If you are admitted to the hospital, we may test you for COVID so we can safely care for you. You may be tested even if you are not experiencing symptoms.

You can find answers to more questions about Southern Regional Medical Center’s emergency room–including why you might have to wait a long time or why patients who came in after you do might be seen before you–at https://www.southernregional.org/services/emergency-services/emergency-room-faqs/

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