Practice key when ‘lives are at stake’

December 19, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — Practice is something almost no one enjoys, but for officials at Franciscan Health Michigan City, it’s critical for one of the most difficult parts of the big move next month – transporting about 100 patients to the new hospital.

“On January 12, the Emergency Department in the old hospital closes and emergency services will move to the new building,” Robert Blaszkiewicz said. “And at 8 a.m., patients will be transported by ambulance to the new facility.”

The exact number is unknown – hospital officials say there are anywhere from 80 to 110 patients on any given day.

“There are about 80 right now,” Blaszkiewicz said Friday, “but that changes daily, so we’ll have to wait and see. We hope to be done moving everyone by about 1 p.m.”

While the exact number of patients is not known, every other step in the process of moving about four miles from Homer and Wabash to the new facility at U.S. 421 and I-94 is, hopefully, down to a science by then after two years of planning.

“Ten ambulances will be running back and forth in a continuous loop between the two hospitals,” Trish Weber, vice president of operations, said during a practice run Friday. “Part of this staging is to see how long it will take, we don’t want to rush and safety is the primary focus.”

Kathy Sheffield, transportation planning leader for FDI Consulting, one of two companies hired to coordinate and help carry out the move, agreed.

“We’ve been here for two years planning for this. FDI does the planning and HCR [Health Care Relocations] handles the logistics. The actual move is the hospital’s responsibility with support from HCR and FDI.”

“They are true experts in their field,” Weber said. “All HCR does is hospital moves, and FDI plans hospital and university moves.”

But for Weber, those companies’ past moves are just details. This one is her focus.

“It’s a big responsibility and we take it as such,” she said as about two dozen nurses, paramedics, support staff and sisters listened intently prior to the mock move.

“For the transport, we will be using the ambulances like Ubers. The drivers will stay in the vehicle and just drive; the lift teams will transport patients from the floors to the holding area, then a nurse transport team will take them to the ambulance. There will be paramedics and critical care nurses in each ambulance all the way.”

The sisters are involved too, “in a big way,” Weber said. “Each patient will get a warmed blanket before going to the ambulance, and the sisters will bless them before they leave, and again when they arrive at new hospital.

“We want to meet the holistic, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of each patient during this move,” she said.

Franciscan coordinated with Superior Ambulance for the practice run, which included moving an ICU patient, and a mother with an infant – “two of the most critical scenarios we could face,” Weber said.

Patrick Moriarty, president of HCR, said a special carrier – which one paramedic called a “baby torpedo” – is used to transport newborns.

“It’s an infant carrier, self-contained, that provides oxygen and warmth. It’s the only thing that goes in a specialty ambulance.”

There’s also a lot of information sharing involved.

“A lot of paperwork,” Weber said. “We need to make sure all the patient’s medicines, all their possessions, all their charts get to the nurses at the new facility with them so the new nurses have all the information they need right away.”

That part is critical to the timeline, according to Moriarty, who used a stopwatch app to time every part of the move down to the second.

“We don’t want patients to come down from their rooms and not be ready to move them right away. Transport teams will just move them; nurses will provide any needed care all through the move. We want to get them to the new place and up to their floor as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

He said everything went almost perfectly for the test run.

“The mock move went really, really well, I think. It’s looking great so far.”

His goal is for a team to pick up a patient, get them into an ambulance, transport them to the new facility, get them to a new room, and be back to pick up the next patient in 1 hour and 4 minutes.

“They did great timewise,” Moriarty said. “Having that new road [recently repaved Ohio Street] makes it a lot easier timewise.”

Weber said just because the practice went well doesn’t mean anyone is easing up.

“We will be huddling every day before the move,” she said. “We want to go over everything again and again and again. Lives are at stake so everything has to be planned out in advance and well-orchestrated.”

While everyone is anxiously looking forward to moving day, Weber said she does have one reservation.

“It will be hard not to cry when the last patient is moved into an ambulance and this hospital goes dark.”

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