St. Clair Hospital opens Observation Unit

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St. Clair Memorial Hospital opened the doors this week to its new Observation Unit, an extension to its Emergency Department.

The unit's purpose is to provide testing to determine more quickly whether the patient should be admitted or be sent home, said David Kish, director of Emergency Services at the Mt. Lebanon hospital.

Mr. Kish said patients who needed observation previously were scattered throughout the hospital, wherever there was an available bed. Now, such patients will be taken directly to the Observation Unit.

"This is more efficient care, so no one gets lost in the shuffle," nurse manager Holly James said.

The new unit will also open beds in the rest of the hospital for sicker patients, she said.

Renovations were finished about two weeks ago for the unit, which took the space formerly occupied by the Pulmonary/Telemetry Unit, which has been moved. The new observation unit is one of only two in the area; the other is at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Jefferson Hills.

The unit has 22 rooms with 35 beds. There is also a doctors' charting room and a consultation room where doctors can speak privately with the patient and family. Each observation room features computers for medical personnel. The nurse's station is equipped with a board that lists the patient's name and status and that lights up when his or her results are available.

Mr. Kish said because the Observation Unit serves as an extension of the Emergency Department, the patients are still considered outpatients and are treated as such by insurance companies.

Dr. Terrence Gilbert, medical director of the new unit, said the level of care is going to be significantly higher.

"On the surface, it's no different," he said. "But it will be noticeably different for the patients. The time it will take to determine their position (inpatient or outpatient) will be significantly less."

Patients are sent to the Observation Unit if they require testing beyond what is done in the ER; patients may have low-risk chest pains, asthma, fainting spells, dehydration or abdominal pain.

Phil Fagan Sr., an 80-year-old Mt. Lebanon resident, was the unit's first patient, coming to the unit for observation at 7:30 a.m. Monday. Mr. Fagan had arrived at the ER hours earlier complaining of chest pains.

"I would rather have a place like this where there's a chance to go home faster," Mr. Fagan said of what he called a "holding unit" of sorts.

Dr. Gilbert explained the Observation Unit, like the ER, runs 24/7, whereas testing is done in other parts of the hospital only during business hours. The goal in the unit is to get the patient home or admitted in fewer than 16 hours, Dr. Gilbert said.

Sarah Steimer, freelance: .


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