Triage time

Share this:
August 30, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
No one wants to end up here.

But if you do end up in HCMC’s Emergency Department, you’re in place that has a long and successful track record in trauma care. The department, housed in the hospital’s Red Building, 730 S. 8th St., takes up an entire city block and has six specialized team centers.

In 1989, HCMC became the first hospital in the state certified as a Level I
Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons. The distinction means that the hospital has significant operating room capacity and surgeons available to deliver emergency medical care trained in a variety of specialties.

The hospital’s Emergency Department is the busiest in the state with more than 100,000 visits a year, said Michelle Noltimier, director of the department.

The department’s physicians provide 24-hour coverage and consult on outstate emergencies. Nurses are involved in specialized training to handle medical emergencies.

“Hennepin County Medical Center Emergency Department and Emergency Express prides itself on being able to handle all patient presentations from the most complex medical trauma related incidents to the routine,” Noltimier said. “We do this for a population from various backgrounds that require language interpretation and a population that may have extensive social needs. We see it all.”

Besides being the first Level I Trauma Center in the state, the hospital was also the first to open its doors in the city and the first to have an ambulance service. Founded in 1887, it was known as City Hospital. Since its early days it has experienced significant growth and become a leading teaching hospital in the country for new nurses and physicians.

The Emergency Department is in charge of treating medical and surgical emergencies, initiating lifesaving procedures and delivering emergency care for chronic conditions, Noltimier said. Common medical problems treated include traumatic injuries, chest pain, respiratory issues, seizures, headaches, fevers, lacerations, abdominal pain and sexual assaults.

The Emergency Department has many special services, too. Patients in need of psychiatric evaluation are referred to Acute Psychiatric Services. Those suspected or identified as being the victim of sexual, physical or emotional abuse are referred to a Emergency Department social worker. There are also interpreters, financial counselors and patient representatives to assist patients and chaplains on hand to provide support for families and friends of patients in
critical conditions.

When someone arrives at the Emergency Department, a nurse conducts triage to determine how to best help the patient.

“Patient flow is always something we are working on improving,” Noltimier said. “This is measured by how soon our patients see a medical provider. We have skilled nurses sorting patients by acuity at triage and are able to rapidly treat those with life threatening illness or those in immediate need of care.”

The hospital has been working on redesigning the triage area to do diagnostic testing to shorten the waiting time for patients.

Noltimier has been working at HCMC since 1991.

“Compassion and the willingness to understand people goes a long way in caring for patients with complex medical and mental health issues,” she said. “Teamwork and collaboration makes all the difference in making process improvements. And finally, the work is never dull.”