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NEWS | May 13, 2013

Behind the sirens: ER handles flexible mission

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Most people see an ambulance coming their way on the street and pull off to the side until it passes by without truly knowing if someone could be dying inside the emergency vehicle.

For personnel in the emergency room at U.S. Air Force Hospital Langley, Va., receiving that unknown patient presents a number of problems; however it is up to them to save a life.

"I am confident my people can take any challenge thrown at them," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Benjamin Barlow, 633rd Medical Group emergency room physician. "We have the capability to be flexible and provide quality care to anyone who needs it."

While ambulatory patients are always able to be seen, the ER isn't exclusive to patients with extreme needs. Patients are scaled from one to five on a triage level in accordance with their ailments.

"Three-level triage patients and above are seen immediately," said Barlow. "We will see all of our patients in time, but it is imperative we see the sickest patients the soonest."

In order to see as many patients as possible, the ER comes equipped with 11 beds. Six beds are dedicated to patients in critical or close-to-critical condition, while another five are suited for patients of a lower triage level.

Determining a patient's triage level is critical to maintaining both patient health and the flexibility of the ER.

"When a patient first enters the ER, we examine their condition through observation," said Barlow. "It is up to our nurses and techs to determine the triage level by taking vitals and learning more about the patient's condition."

While determining a patient's injury is important to remain flexible, Senior Airman Okechukwu Osisioma, 633rd Medical Group ER technician, gave an example of what can happen at a moment's notice in the ER, no matter a patient's triage level.

"Our biggest responsibility is watching the patient," said Osisioma. "I've had a patient come in with perfect vitals and then quickly deteriorate in condition. We have to be vigilant."

Because patients like Osisioma's aren't unheard of, techs and nurses are also instrumental in immediate care for patients with severe injury. They place splints, inject fluids and begin intravenous drips as well as provide first aid care if needed.

Techs and doctors in the ER do more than aid the physical needs of their patients. Talking to patients and putting them at ease comprises another large portion of the work done in the ER. Explaining treatment plans or working with a patient's primary care manager supplement the care provided by ER staff.

Providing quality treatment remains paramount in any medical situation, and luckily for Barlow and his team, the Hampton community provides a helping hand if the ER has too many patients.

"When someone has a serious problem, the most important thing is to get them medical treatment as soon as possible," said Barlow. "For patients who are seen off-base, we have a solid line of communication with community hospitals to maintain quality of care, no matter the location."

Hampton Roads community hospitals, such as Sentara hospitals in the area or Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, provide support for the Langley ER. In cases of mass casualties, for instance, Barlow said there are contingencies in place to prevent the ER from being overwhelmed.

Fortunately for the ER team, having access to Langley's new clinics allows them to send patients right upstairs for more in-depth treatment if need be.

"We have been seeing a wider variety of patients here since the new clinics opened up," said Barlow. "While it may just be a coincidence, I believe patients feel more secure coming here first instead of another hospital since we have these new capabilities."

While some people may only ever be pulling off to the side of the road when an ambulance drives by, they should always know the individual inside that big, white truck will receive all the help needed once the Langley ER and its team roll the patient in.