I had the tough experience not too long ago of racing over to the hospital where a dear friend and neighbor had just been rushed. It’s always disorienting to enter an emergency room and not know the status of the situation, where the room is, who the doctor is, etc. Sadly, I quickly learned our friend had passed on.
His family and a tight-knit group of friends were together in a waiting room at the hospital, trying to cope with the sudden shock of what had just happened. Plenty of prayers, tears and supportive words flowed for the next hour or two. In the midst of this most painful situation, one couldn’t help but notice how exceptional the emergency room staff was.
Compassionate and supportive, the team did everything they could before, during and after the tragic event. It made such an impression on me that I wanted to return a few months later to meet them again under different circumstances — which is what brought me back to Huntington Beach Hospital on a recent evening to watch what life is like in our most local ER.
The hospital, in case you’ve missed it, is at 17772 Beach Blvd. I say, “In case you’ve missed it” because, it sits back a bit from the road, and so it is easy to pass without notice (even though it’s been here for 40 years). When I get to the emergency room, it’s just like I remember it from my recent visit: calm, quiet and spotless. It’s not that there aren’t patients here; it’s just that the mode of operation here seems to be one of cool efficiency.
True, it may be a relatively quiet night here at the ER, but still, there is none of the cliché ER panic popularized by Hollywood — no frantic medics clearing a path for a stretcher through a crowded hallway screaming “Get me two pints of O positive!” (I learned one never uses the word, “Quiet” in an emergency room. It’s sort of like uttering the term “no hitter” in a baseball game. Bad form and possibly bad luck. “Comfortable” is the term of choice).
As I sit down with Dr. Lee Weiss, the director of emergency services, he explains to me that’s just the point.
“The philosophy at Prime Healthcare Services (the company that runs the hospital) is to create the most efficient, productive, clear-thinking environment possible. We build the hospital around the emergency department — it’s what drives everything here. The highest benchmarks and standards are applied here in the emergency department to create efficiencies that are fast becoming the standard for other hospitals,” he said.
Weiss speaks passionately about Huntington Beach Hospital.
“Here, everything is analyzed to see how can we make things run optimally. How long does it take for a patient to see a physician? How much time is spent in the emergency? How long to get an X-Ray, blood count? We want to exceed every national benchmark. Our average length of stay here in the ER is less than two hours. Up in Los Angeles? It can run six to nine hours,” he said. “What if your mom was admitted here? Would you want her to sit around and have to wait? That’s what drives our environment. The nurses here are extraordinarily professional, they’re happy where they work and they have formed an incredible team with the doctors. Think of this as a small town hospital within the city — the values, the hands-on care — this is a special place.”
We’re talking in the EMS lounge — a place created specially for the Emergency Medical Services workers who might need a place to sit, catch their breath, have a soda — all before the next run.
The lounge is another example of the “extra mile” philosophy here.
Denise Flaws, director of the emergency department/intensive care unit, gave me a tour of the sparkling facility.
She explains the short turnover time here has become a prime reason for bringing patients in.
“People will call from other emergency rooms where the wait is too long,” she said. “What’s worse than waiting when you’re sick or injured?”
Chris Comstock is an eight-year veteran here, a nurse who spends many overnight shifts on duty. Both she and another 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. nurse, Suzie Greganic, appreciate all of the positive changes implemented by Prime Healthcare Services.
The two women are dedicated, upbeat and thoroughly committed to what they do — they love being nurses, which helps make the mood here so positive.
The emergency room at Huntington Beach Hospital is a special place, a true community hospital where ultra-modern efficiency meets warmth and professionalism. I can’t say I hope I see them all again soon, that is, here in the ER.
But if I do, I know I’ll be among some of the best that are out there, a group who mixes big-city innovation and small-town attention.