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Vision and Voice

Emergency Medicine is a Team Sport

COVID-19 has intensified staffing challenges of hospitals nationwide. In many emergency departments, demand often outpaces the care that teams can provide. At UVA Health, we're minimizing the impact of nursing shortages by reimagining what our care teams look like. That's especially true in our ED, where we've deployed Emergency Medical Technicians, paramedics, and others to serve alongside nurses to provide optimum care.

At the height of the delta surge in the fall, I’d round in our ED at night because I was concerned about our strained capacity and its stress on our teams. Like so many of our peers, we knew there weren't enough ED nurses. So, what could we do instead? We gathered a group to assess our options. That's when our front-line team members offered some outside-the-box ideas.

Many behavioral health patients often utilize our ED, so someone asked if we could have a few psych nurses staff the ED. Instead of saying "we've never done that before" or "that'll never work," we started a pilot program. It's worked so well that we now regularly have psych nurses in our ED.

Another person mentioned that they'd heard of another hospital utilizing EMTs in its shorthanded ED. So, we tried it, and it's proven successful. Seeing that, someone else suggested that we should also try bringing in paramedics to supplement our team. That's working, too.

Now, we're broadening our care team even more. Our Staffing Resource Office is deploying support to our ED. We're also hiring medical school and pre-health students in a newly created role allowing them to perform practical tasks in the ED without prior experience or certifications.

In short, so many have pitched in to help augment and enhance the strength of our nurses. This new care model has completely changed our ED's patient flow and experience in only a few months. Borne out of necessity, this model can now help us achieve staffing flexibility and comprehensive patient oversight in other areas. It also streamlines our ability to assemble teams with critical and varied skills to better care for patients.

This kind of innovation doesn't happen without a creative team. And UVA Health has just such a team. We're the kind of place where anyone can make a difference just by asking, "What could we do differently?" That's special, and that's how we provide the best care possible to our patients.

Take care and be well!