MEDICAL staffing and patient condition contributed to infant diversions

Tuesday, August 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Medical staffing and patient condition are the main reasons why two Oklahoma City area children were transferred by helicopter to a Tulsa hospital for emergency treatment, officials say.

A 6-month-old south Oklahoma City boy died over the weekend at St. Francis Medical Center in Tulsa after suffocating in a beanbag chair. In addition, a 1-year-old Norman girl who almost drowned in a bathtub was upgraded Monday from critical to serious, a St. Francis spokeswoman said. The children's names were not released.

Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, Integris Baptist Medical Center and St. Francis are the only three Oklahoma hospitals with pediatric intensive care units, officials said.

After Children's Hospital and Integris Baptist couldn't accept more infants, the two young patients were diverted to St. Francis.

The 12 pediatric ICU beds at Children's Hospital were occupied by infant patients with acute heart problems, kidney diseases and bone marrow transplants. Such care requires around-the-clock monitoring by a highly trained staff, said Allen Poston, the hospital's public relations manager.

``Not all hospitals have pediatric intensive care units, and the hospitals that do have them in Oklahoma City were filled this weekend,'' Poston said.

``We have the kinds of patients with illnesses bad enough that they can't be transferred anywhere else. What we need is more pediatric ICU nurses, and we're recruiting. We'd love to increase our staffing in that area.''

Poston said Children's Hospital receives about four patients a year from Tulsa-area hospitals and at least six patients a year from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he said.

At Integris Baptist, spokesman Damon Gardenhire said the hospital ``just happened to have'' four critically ill babies last weekend.

Staffing and the level of care needed by those infants contributed to the dilemma, he said.

``It's more responsible for medical centers to go to divert rather than accept patients they may not be able to care for at the highest level,'' Gardenhire said Monday.

Tulsa's St. Francis has a 17-bed pediatric ICU and apparently enough staff to accept transfer patients from other medical facilities statewide.

Dr. William Banner, the hospital's medical director, said he was not aware of any infants ever having to be diverted from St. Francis to Oklahoma City.

He said ``time can always be a factor'' in emergency treatment.

The emergency rooms at all metro area hospitals served by Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulances have computers that indicate whether a patient in transit needs to diverted for specific medical reasons or because of bed shortages.

EMSA spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said divert situations constitute ``a national emergency services problem.''