Registered nurse James Kitch and Scott Lamont

Registered nurse James Kitch and Scott Lamont

Critical care specialists sharpen skills

Members of Kootenay Boundary High Acuity Response Team took part in a training session to practice decompression.

It looked as though a group of health professionals were about to take a break from training Tuesday to fire up the barbecue for some ribs.

But without a grill in site, the team of critical care nurses inserted needles into the grocery-bought meat to practice decompression to release built up air for a “patient” suffering from tension pneumothorax.

Registered nurses Laura Erickson and Kathy Apostoliuk were among the group of about 10 High Acuity Response Team (HART) members taking part in a training session at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

The hands-on constant training is essential for these professionals, who act as transport nurses.

“If we have a sick patient in an outlying hospital that needs to get to a higher level of care, then we go with an ambulance and pick the patient up and stabilize them en route and ideally get them to the hospital in better condition than they left in,” explained Erickson.

HART, an Interior Health program that works in partnership with BC Ambulance Services, attends to acute patients in rural and remote health sites by either stabilizing them to avoid transfer or transporting them to a higher level of care.

In Trail, there are five full-time and six part-time specially trained critical care nurses and eight respiratory therapists with advanced airway management training who cover the communities in the Kootenay Boundary and in some instances travel to Kelowna to deliver a patient. The team has handled approximately 350 calls since it started up in the fall last year.

When they’re not on the move, HART members work with the most critical patients at the Trail hospital and are constantly adding skills to their tool kit that they may need to use in the future.

“It is one of those things that you may never need to do in your career but if you do need to, it’s life saving,” explained Dr. Jeff Hussey, medical director for Kootenay Boundary HART and an ER physician at KBRH.

“They have to be prepared to pick up and go, they usually have scads of equipment around them because . . . they’re basically a mobile intensive-care unit.”

When a critical incident is underway, Hussey is one of the 15 advisors who could participate in a conference call that would determine what can be done for a patient and if a higher level of care is needed, where he or she should be transported.

When the decision is made, a HART team is dispatched.

Beyond Trail, the program is set up in Cranbrook and Kamloops and another will be implemented in Penticton this spring. IH spends about $800,000 annually per hospital-base team to deliver this service.