Speedy Care

When sudden illness or injury strikes, the area’s largest Pediatric Emergency Department is there to help



Every year, Saint Peter’s University Hospital provides emergency-room treatment for approximately 22,000 infants, children and young adults. Until recently, those patients shared space and equipment with adult emergency patients. In April, however, the children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital opened its new Dorothy B. Hersh Pediatric Emergency Department. At 5,200 square feet, it is the largest pediatric emergency department (ED) in the region, defined as Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, Union and Monmouth counties. As such it is uniquely suited to the special emergency needs of young patients and the concerns of their families.

Pediatric patients can have different health issues than older patients. “Children aren’t just little adults,” says Heather Veltre, R.N., nursing director of Emergency Services. “A child’s status can change very quickly, especially with health concerns like respiratory issues. With babies, you have to be very careful about medication dosages and you need very astute assessment skills, because the youngest patients often can’t tell you what’s wrong.” That’s why the pediatric ED is staffed with physicians and nurses who are specially trained in pediatric emergency care. “We understand the importance of creating a special place that is geared to kids’ problems and can provide the specialized support they need,” Veltre says. “The quality of our care was always there, but the new space helps us see more patients more quickly and efficiently, with less wait time.”

The entire facility is brand new, including much of the medical equipment. For example, state-of-the-art monitors allow patients to be registered, assessed and started on treatment right at their bedside. “Better technology lets us interface with the hospital’s data system, which better positions us to enhance patient care,” explains Veltre. And an emergency department pharmacist was added to the team in 2012 to aid staff in screening, preparation and education related to pharmaceutical therapies for patients. “The addition of the ED pharmacist has been invaluable to the team; this role adds another layer of support for the nurses and providers so that complex medications are readily available when needed,” says Veltre.

The new pediatric ED provides an area for staff to treat patients from newborns to 18 years old. It offers 14 beds, 11
of which are in private rooms. All the private rooms are equipped with a TV and DVD player, and feature child-friendly decorations designed to appeal to children of all ages. Lounges are family-friendly, and a nourishment station is stocked with snacks, coffee, juice and other comforts.

There are also private areas for consultation and space for quiet reflection. “We are committed to treating the whole family, including parents and siblings who are involved in the child’s care,” Veltre says. “Our mission is to provide family support to the community in a private environment. Before the new pediatric ED opened we were challenged for space and privacy.”

Along with the main pediatric ED, a new 12-bed “fast-track” area, which will open in August, will provide services for both adult and pediatric patients with mild medical symptoms. “The goal is to provide effective treatment that allows patients to get in and out quickly,” Veltre says. Fast-track will treat non–life-threatening conditions such as cuts, sprains and simple infections, so that patients can be diagnosed, treated and released within 90 minutes.

Among its special features, the Dorothy B. Hersh Pediatric Emergency Department includes a full-time child life specialist to address any of the emotional concerns of a child and family members during a visit. “The child life specialist helps the child and family cope with illness, treatments and procedures by using therapeutic and diversionary interventions and medical and procedural play, and offers coping techniques,” says Michael Hochberg, M.D., chairman of emergency services. “If a child is admitted to the hospital, the child life specialist aids that transition.”

The new pediatric ED opened for business April 10, “and we were busy the minute we opened the door,” Veltre says. “We filled up every room and have maintained that volume ever since.” Clearly, the need is there. “The public response has been overwhelmingly positive,” she reports. “Everyone is very happy with the private rooms. The space is much quieter and our patients move through the system more quickly. Our patient satisfaction scores are very high.”

The staff love the new Pediatric Emergency Department too. “It’s clean and fresh and current, and it brings a sense
 of pride to all of us. It helps to show how committed we are to the women and children of our community.” —David Levine

An Ambitious Expansion

The Dorothy B. Hersh Foundation committed a $1 million grant to help fund the pediatric emergency department expansion project. The Dorothy B. Hersh Pediatric Emergency Department is just the first phase of a two-and-a-half-year-long project that will modernize and expand the entire Saint Peter’s Emergency Department (ED) to make patient care more rapid and efficient.

Phase 2 will add adult and pediatric “fast-track” rooms and additional treatment beds. Phases 3, 4 and 5 will redesign the adult emergency department. Those phases will include the creation of three treatment “pods,” which will focus on separate treatment areas: acute care, women’s health and rapid-treatment patients. The acute-care bay will be designed to treat emergency situations such as heart attack and stroke. The women’s health pod will provide services to treat conditions such as early pregnancy complications and OB/GYN emergencies. The rapid-treatment section will offer faster services such as IV fluids and certain kinds of imaging, and is designed to enable patients to return home both quickly and safely.

In all, the ED will have a total of 56 beds, with the vast majority of them in four-wall private rooms. Other so-called “curtained rooms” will be in the fast-track area. And it will be built to be “geriatrics-friendly,” meaning it will feature softer lighting, less noise, more comfortable mattresses and easier-to-use beds.

The Dorothy B. Hersh Foundation has been a longtime benefactor of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, including its support for the Dorothy B. Hersh Regional Child Protection Center at the Family Health Center on How Lane in New Brunswick.

When Your Child Has an Emergency

Any medical emergency is scary, but never more so than when it involves your child. The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends some things you should know to prepare for a child’s emergency.

  • PLAN AHEAD. Know where the closest emergency department is and how you would get there.
  • IF IT’S A LIFE-OR-DEATH SITUATION, CALL 911. If it is safe to drive, remain calm, which will help your child remain calm.
  • COMMUNICATE CLEARLY TO THE EMERGENCY STAFF. Good communication on all fronts makes the process run more smoothly.
  • PROVIDE “CONSENT TO TREAT” FORMS for those who take care of your child (e.g., guardian, babysitter, daycare provider or school nurse).
  • EXPLAIN WHAT IS HAPPENING. Be sensitive to the situation and children’s ages, but be honest. Reassure them the emergency staff is there to help them and that it is OK for the physician to examine them.
  • DON’T LET A CHILD EAT OR DRINK ANYTHING IF YOU ARE TAKING HIM OR HER TO THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT. Let the physicians recommend when it’s OK to eat or drink.
  • STAY CALM. Remember that kids feed off cues given by adults. If you are impatient and panicked, most likely the child will be as well.

In addition, if you have time, bring
 a list of the child’s allergies, current medications, immunization records and contact information for any physicians who are treating him or her. Also bring a sleepover bag in case the child is admitted to the hospital. Include a change of clothes, pajamas and objects like a small toy, a favorite blanket, a book or a stuffed animal.


Source: American College of Emergency Physicians

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