Linda Teixeira, of Laurel, is no stranger to emergency rooms. Her daughter is on dialysis and has other related health issues that require emergency care on a regular basis. What is new for Teixeira is that on this particular evening, she's waiting for her daughter in Laurel Regional Hospital's waiting room.
"We live up the street and could walk here, but she was here a couple of times in the past and the service wasn't good, so we had been going to Howard General," Teixeira said.
About a week ago, Teixeira said her daughter was in so much pain that she brought her to Laurel Regional because it was nearby. While there, she learned that the hospital's Emergency Department is now staffed by doctors from the University of Maryland Medical System, which she found impressive.
"I hope these doctors will be better. This is our second visit and she was seen quickly, so we're giving it another try," Teixeira said.
Laurel Regional Hospital officials are hoping other local residents and those in nearby communities will come back to the hospital for their medical needs. They see the partnership with UMMS as a way to accomplish that goal.
UMMS took over the staffing and management of physicians in Laurel Regional's Emergency Department July 1. The change is part of the 2011 memorandum of understanding between UMMS; Prince George's County; the state of Maryland; and the hospitals' parent company, Dimensions Healthcare System. The MOU was established to improve the care and services offered at county hospitals in all areas.
Mark Arsenault, Laurel Regional's vice president for emergency services, said they made the first changes in the hospital's Emergency Department because it's a high-demand unit.
"Seventy percent of the patients who get admitted to the hospital come through the Emergency Department," Arsenault said. "The Emergency Department sees about 36,000 patients a year, which amounts to about 100 people a day. The hospital admits about 25 people a day, and I'd say 14 to 16 of them come through the Emergency Department."
Arsenault said for more than 10 years, EmCare Physician Services provided emergency services doctors at Laurel Regional. Half of those doctors switched to UMMS, so many familiar faces will still be there.
Most doctors who work in hospitals' emergency services units are not employees of the facility, but work for providers such as EmCare and UMMS.
"Our Emergency Department physicians only work in the Emergency Department," Arsenault said. "Other physicians work in the rest of the hospital, so the private and community doctors people have seen in the past are still here."
There are 14 physicians on call for emergency services, and six nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, according to Arsenault. He said their quarterly survey of the new group of doctor's first 90 days shows there have been significant improvements in patient care in the Emergency Department.
"An independent national company does the survey, and their report shows our scores are four times better than before, so it's going great. We're at 60 percent for excellent care and 80 percent for good care. We want a 100 percent rating, but we're happy with this because before our improvement numbers were 10 to 15 percent lower," he said. "The perception of care is up and how fast patients are seen has improved, which is always important."
Hospital officials are working to have more physicians in the emergency unit during peak hours, usually from 2 to 6 p.m. They are also tweaking the schedules of the nursing staff to provide more assistance during peak times.
Last week, there were eight people in the waiting room between 5 and 6 p.m. and they all said they had been taken care of quickly. The only complaint came from a Martin Luther King Middle School teacher who had fainted on the job and was seated in a chair, waiting to see a doctor. She did not want to give her name, but said, "My blood pressure was high, and I felt dizzy. They did an initial check quickly, but they need to add more rooms where people like me can be in a bed. They said I may get the next bed," she added as a concerned friend checked on her.
Issues like this are being looked into, according to Arsenault, in consultation with UMMS officials.
"This partnership with the University of Maryland (Medical System) is exciting because as a university hospital, they bring a lot of research on how an emergency department and other areas of the hospital run best," Arsenault said. "They're identifying new equipment and procedures we may need, and we will try to do what they recommend. We're looking at expanding the Emergency Department's services, and the University of Maryland will help strengthen that."
Arsenault was quick to add that Laurel Regional currently has state-of-the-art emergency services equipment, such as its new CT scanner and radiology equipment. But hospital officials plan to expand the Emergency Department in the near future and will rely heavily on the expertise of UMMS officials as that takes place.
Short-term, officials want to change the perception of the hospital, so it is looked upon by more people as a place for quality health care. Laurel Regional officials have struggled with that issue for years, even after undergoing numerous upgrades over the past several years in the hospital's Maternity Care Ward, Orthopedic Unit, Sleep Research Center and other departments.
"We don't think it's well known that our care is just as good as other hospitals and that 99 percent of all emergency care can be taken care of at Laurel Regional," Arsenault said. "The goal is to continue making improvements in care and getting faster service for patients. The partnership with UMMS, which comes with additional physicians and physician's training, will all help to change that perception."