Few things are so rarely thought about, and yet so desperately needed, as an Emergency Department with a skilled medical staff. In a small community like ours, emergency care is one of those services that individuals hope they'll never need and yet expect to have available when a loved one is severely ill or badly injured.
This week is the 25th anniversary of Emergency Medicine and Emergency Nurses Week. At Central Peninsula General Hospital, we are reflecting on how fortunate we are to have quality emergency care available here on the peninsula, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Our thanks go out to the physicians and nurses that work diligently in our Emergency Department now, and those that have served here from the beginning.
Even as recently as the late 70s, the Kenai Peninsula only managed to have a few beds available for emergency patients. Before 1981, "emergency" was 2 beds separated by a curtain! One more bed was added in 1981 and Dr. LaVern Davidhizer was contracted to provide physician services to the Emergency Department. He filled that role himself or found other doctors to do it.
Early in 1986, seeing an increasing need for emergency medicine on the peninsula, Dr. Bill Cooper, Dr. Clay Shulte and Dr. Cindy Mildbrand formed a group of physicians who contracted their services to the hospital after Dr. LaVern Davidhizer left. The increase in physicians was soon matched by an increase in bed space. A new Emergency Department was built and opened in September of 1986 with 11 beds.
Dr. Mildbrand remains on the Emergency medical staff and continues her commitment to the hospital and the community. "I think the biggest change I've seen in Emergency Medicine here on the peninsula is the number of geriatric patients," says Mildbrand. "In the early 80s people retired outside the state and it wasn't unusual for homesteaders to hop on a plane to go to Virginia Mason for care."
That's changed dramatically, she says. "These days, many people want to retire on the peninsula. Fortunately, we now have most of the specialty services they need so they can stay."
The care available in Emergency has evolved tremendously, she says, and since the mid 80s, Emergency Physicians at the hospital have been Board Certified. "I think people get very good quality care right here at home. The growth of emergency medical services, at the hospital and in the form of ambulance response, has been a phenomenal asset to the community."
While the number of physicians working in the Emergency Department has increased to nine, the number of Emergency Nurses has grown right along with it. Seventeen nurses work in Emergency with one extra to help in the summer. They bring with them 271 years of nursing experience, 157 of those years specifically in Emergency Nursing.
"This kind of nursing is something that calls you," says Lois Johnson, a 15-year veteran of emergency nursing and President-elect of the state's Emergency Nurses Association. "You have to want to be here or you wouldn't be. It's fast paced and the turn around time is very short which makes things pretty stressful."
There's also very little time for building relationships as happens in other kinds of nursing, Johnson points out. "But our work is rewarding in the sense that most of the time we have the immediate gratification of fixing people up and sending them home quickly."
Johnson proudly accepted a Kenai Peninsula Borough proclamation Tuesday, on behalf of local Emergency Nurses, for Emergency Nurses Week. She says every time it comes around, she is reminded by her husband why she does this work. "I am totally proud of her and what she and the other nurses she works with do for the community," says Kelly Johnson.
"She does such an important thing she's a lifeline. She could work anywhere but she is completely committed to nursing here and being part of this community."
Doctors and nurses who work in emergency medicine are a special breed of caregiver and we're privileged to have some of the best working at CPGH. They function best under pressure, have tremendous flexibility, and enjoy the fast pace and variety of challenges that are standard in the Emergency Department. But what stands out most of all is their professionalism, the compassion they have for patients, the incredible quality of the care they provide and their commitment to be here every day, year after year.
During this 25th anniversary of Emergency Medicine and Emergency Nurses Week, we want our Emergency Department staff to know they are appreciated.
David Gilbreath is the president and CEO of Central Peninsula General Hospital.
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