By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A recent increase in patient census at CVPH Medical Center has forced hospital officials to temporarily restructure its third-floor Children’s Unit.
As part of its Alice T. Miner Center for Women and Children, the hospital runs a 10-bed pediatric unit that specializes in the medical care of children typically admitted with such conditions as upper-respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses and pneumonia.
The average census on the unit is one patient per day, meaning that nine beds are often empty; sometimes the unit is completely vacant, officials said.
TO MEET NEED
The unit is one of three areas in the hospital that serves other needs when there is a shortage of beds elsewhere.
“There are times when we have a surge in patient admissions,” explained Debra Donahue, senior vice president and chief operating officer for CVPH.
One reason for the elevated census, she said, is the number of older patients awaiting placement in long-term-care facilities.
Without the designated areas to handle sudden increases in patients, these seniors would have to remain in beds in the hospital’s Emergency Department for extended periods, creating a backlog in that area, Donahue said.
“We feel that, as a hospital, we must do what we can to provide the best possible care for all patients,” she said.
In order to provide that care for geriatric patients, the hospital has placed seniors in the 10-bed Children’s Unit and is treating children on regular patient floors.
“We have two rooms allotted for children’s care on one of the (medical/surgical) floors,” said Maria Hayes, director of the Center for Women and Children.
“We have one patient there now, but we have a pediatric nurse assigned to take care of the child.”
Specially trained pediatric nurses work on the Children’s Unit and serve kids on a ratio of three patients to each nurse.
Pediatric nurses assigned to young patients moved to other floors remain with them throughout their shift, Hayes said.
“It’s just location,” she said of transfers out of the Children’s Unit. “Care is still being maintained. Infection control is being maintained across the hospital, no matter who the patient is or where the patient goes.
“We continue to follow policies and protocols (for caring for young patients) based on (Centers for Disease Control) protocol.”
NO SPECIAL SECURITY
Although patients in the Children’s Unit receive an extra level of security, as visitors cannot enter without identifying themselves, Hayes said, she is confident that children are safe on the other floors. She emphasized that a nurse is with them always.
The overall census was dropping as the week wound down, and four geriatric patients remained on the Children’s Unit as of Thursday.
Donahue stressed that the hospital is committed to all patients.
“This is more a community issue,” she said of the reason for having seniors who are awaiting placement in long-term care. “These patients are admitted to the hospital but then have no place to go.”
The elderly patients are typically not well enough to be discharged back to their homes, but with a shortage of nursing-home space and concerns with Medicaid payments for those facilities, the patients end up in limbo at the hospital.
“We have to have surge capacity,” Donahue said of the need to use space like the Children’s Unit. “We are now bringing down our census gradually.”
WORKING WITH DOCTORS
The hospital has worked closely with area pediatricians to address the situation, and both Donohue and Hayes said the local doctors have expressed their support for the measure.
“We are certainly still admitting children, and the floor (where pediatric patients are staying) is staffed with regular pediatric nurses,” said Dr. Heidi Moore of Mountain View Pediatrics.
“We like to have our kids on a pediatric floor for lots of reasons, but I don’t have concerns about the care they’re getting (at CVPH). It’s the same staff taking care of our patients, and we have all the equipment needed.
“The hospital is in a tight spot now because of needing more beds for adults,” she added. “Because our pediatric census is low in the summertime, it made sense to use some of the empty beds on the pediatric floor for adults.”
Moore praised the hospital’s pediatric wing for its location near the maternity ward, its quiet atmosphere and its child-friendly decorations, but she said the care her patients receive on the regular floors has not changed.
“The care is the same,” she said, “no matter what floor they are on.”
Hayes also praised the efforts of area pediatricians to provide quality care in the region, noting that reduced patient numbers at the hospital are helped by the availability of doctors at their offices during evening, weekend and emergency hours.
Children who need more intensive care are typically transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, which has an Infant and Children’s Intensive-Care Unit.
Email Jeff Meyersjmeyers@pressrepublican.com