Illness and injury never happen at a convenient time; they don’t recognize holidays or weekends, and couldn’t care less if the hour is late or the weather is inclement. For those who need emergency care, the staffers in Emergency Medical Services at Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to serve the community.

However, working together with other groups is key when it comes to providing emergency care for Calaveras County citizens.

“Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital works collaboratively within a network of public service agencies that provide outstanding care and service to the surrounding communities,” said Chief Nurse Executive Melissa Cuevas.

“Our partners include local and state fire agencies, law enforcement, social services, public health, all local emergency medical ambulances providers, both ground and air, and other county service agencies,” said Cuevas.

Collaboration doesn’t just happen when responding to accidents or health emergencies; it is an essential aspect of life in the emergency room itself. Sue Griffiths, who has spent 24 of her 25 years as an emergency room nurse at Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital, sees collaboration in the ER constantly, whether working with nursing students from the Calaveras High ROP program or making sure patients get the level of care they need.

“We know our limits … if you need a higher level care, we don’t hesitate to identify and transfer a patient to a higher level of care,” said Griffiths.

Mark Twain St. Joseph’s emergency services have undergone several changes over the past year, including the addition of new staff members and the implementation of new computer software. These changes were made in order to reduce wait times for patients without sacrificing the quality of their care.

“People come to the emergency room for medical attention and peace of mind,” said Cuevas, “Some improvements are already making a visit to the Mark Twain St. Joseph emergency room more convenient for patients.”

 In June of 2011, MTSJ began a partnership with EmCare, a firm that provides physician services to hospitals throughout the United States. Through EmCare, Mark Twain St. Joseph’s has added physician’s assistants to their emergency room staff; these physician’s assistants are tasked with treating non-acute injuries and illnesses.

“Our staff has embraced the additional support from physician assistants that enables us to provide excellent service to all of our patients,” said Nicki Stevens, manager of Marketing & Business Development, and Volunteer Services for Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital.

““The physician’s assistants found their place, and they are doing a great job,” agreed Griffiths, “The doctors here are very dedicated to seeing patients in a timely manner.”

According to interim hospital CEO Patti Monczewski, the results of the collaboration with EmCare speak for themselves.

“We are happy to report that our emergency room has already shown measurable improvement,” said Monczewski.

Mark Twain St. Joseph’s has also implemented a new computer system that has had a major impact on their emergency room services. Meditech technology allows lab orders and prescriptions to print out instantly in their respective departments, eliminating the lag that occurs when a runner has to manually take the orders to each department.

The new system also reduces the reliance on doctor’s handwriting, further ensuring the accuracy of the orders; it also stores the patient’s medical records on mobile computer units that can be accessed in the patient’s rooms. These records can be accessed several months after a patient’s last visit, providing a more complete profile of the patient’s health and previous treatment with the click of a button.

The mobile computer units are called “computers on wheels,” or “COWs” by emergency room staffers, who have taken to festooning the units with small plush cows. Not only do these provide a chuckle, but they bring comfort to younger patients.

Connecting with all of the patients, both young and old, is especially important to Griffith.

““We want people to be comfortable coming here. We all live [in Calaveras County], and we think of the people we care for as our family. I can’t tell you how many kids come up to me and say, ‘You were my ER nurse when I was a kid,’” said Griffith.

The addition of physician’s assistants and the implementation of new computer systems are just two of the improvements the hospital is making to their emergency services. In January of 2012, Mark Twain St. Joseph’s will be adding an additional tier of physicians, called “hospitalists,” whose primary duty will be to oversee the care of hospitalized patients, allowing doctors and physicians to focus on their specific departments.

“Not only does this ensure top quality care, it also enables general practice physicians to

devote more time to their practice,” said Stevens.

It also allows the emergency room staff to continue developing one-on-one connections with the patients in their care.

For Griffiths, it’s one of the most important aspects of her job as an ER nurse.

“I am so impressed with the level of compassion here. We care about your loved ones. If something bad happens, it hurts us too, because it’s part of our Calaveras family … the ER nurses care about people here,” said Griffiths.

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