Health care in the South Okanagan and Similkameen just got a bit of HART.
Interior Health announced Wednesday that Penticton will serve as the home base for the newest high-acuity response team (HART), which is designed to serve smaller communities in the region.
“With the launch of the Penticton HART team, we’re not only providing increased support to very sick and injured patients during transfers, we’re also providing additional clinical support to the health-care team at Penticton Regional Hospital,” Interior Health chair Norman Embree said.
Previously the safest method of transporting an acutely ill patient from communities like Princeton, Keremeos, Oliver, Osoyoos and Summerland required a doctor and nurse to travel with the patient. But in those smaller regions, the doctors and nurses in question were the only people on schedule — leaving the emergency room or clinic area with insufficient coverage.
The HART is created as a support to those outlying areas. When a transport is required, the HART will be called in to travel to the referring facility with B.C. Ambulance.
That team will draw from a pool of six highly trained critical care nurses who will always be on site, working in the Penticton Regional Hospital emergency room or intensive care unit when not on the road. A respiratory therapist is also available to travel as required. They will roll out a cart of portable equipment like ventilators and blood pressure monitors, depending on the patient’s needs, as the ambulance approaches the hospital. Once people and equipment are in, the ground trip is taken to the referring facility to pick up the patient. The service can also work for transporting acutely ill patients to Kelowna for care as well.
Rain Nickerson, a nurse with nine years of experience in the ER and ICU, said all the equipment and medication will be at the fingertips of HART to ensure the patient’s safety as they travel.
“B.C. Ambulance can have a bag of saline, but no medicine,” she said. “But this is like having a little ICU in the back of the ambulance.”
Brent Hobbs, Interior Health’s network director of patient transportation, said that the medical community has long advocated for better support for rural physicians and nurses in the event of larger emergencies for some time.
“They wanted a solution to having to send the only nurse and only doctor after-hours for many hours at a time,” he said.
He cited the example of a recent mobile home fire in Lytton: the one doctor and nurse on staff had to treat four badly burned victims — two adults and two children — pulled from the flames. Hobbs said a HART team was dispatched to Lytton to help medical staff. “The closest help is many, many hours away,” he said. “HART got there to assist those staff who were completely overwhelmed … The children did not survive, but the adults did and we were able to keep the doctor and nurse in their home community.”
Hobbs said that the HART unit will pair well with the dedicated paramedic helicopter run recently established out of Kamloops, that will see patients flown between facilities. “These two programs will complement each other,” he said.
Dr. Trevor Connolly, the local medical director for HART, said the 24/7 coverage will be a win for patients, rural facilities and the Penticton hospital.
“It was a project I believed in, and I also believed in the staff we got,” he said. “As a physician, we always worry about patients in transport. It’s a big decision to know whether these patients are going to be stable during transportation or require a higher level of care.
“This will really bridge that gap or void.”
South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation executive director Janice Perrino said they were able to make the $180,000 donation to set the team up with equipment after a Penticton man saw the need for better rural service and coverage, in part because his family lived in the outlying region.
“He was not able to give this gift in his life,” Perrino said, noting it was a legacy donation made as part of his estate. “The only part that makes me sad is he’s not here to see what a difference it will make.”