Timing is everything - especially when it comes to the care of critically ill or injured children. With faster metabolisms, tinier airways, less blood and fluid reserves and a higher sensitivity to changes in body temperature, a sick child’s condition can become life-threatening in minutes. Fast access to specialized medical care and the ability to rapidly identify and respond to changes in a child’s condition can greatly impact a child’s outcome. Timing can mean the difference between life and death.
Thanks to community support, the Alberta Children’s Hospital is now home to a dedicated Pediatric Critical Care Transport Program (PCCTP) that will help children needing life-saving emergency care across all of southern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern British Columbia.
“Think of the Transport Program like a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) on wheels,” says Dr. Angelo Mikrogianakis, Section Chief, Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Co-Director, Critical Care Transport, Alberta Children’s Hospital. “When a child is critically injured or ill, every second counts. Providing a child with the specialized care they need is crucial – and sometimes that means bringing the experts to them.”
While Emergency Medical Services teams very capably transport many sick children to our hospital, the PCCTP team takes on the most complex pediatric crises.
In the past, the Transport Program relied on using staff scheduled to work in the PICU or calling additional staff in when emergency transport was required. Both options were challenging on limited notice. Today, we have a team of highly skilled nurses, respiratory therapists and physicians available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to go out and retrieve critically ill children, and provide the highest standard of care for them in transit back to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
Our hospital is equipped with highly-trained pediatric specialists and the latest medical equipment and technology designed for treating children – much of which is not available at general hospitals. Our experts take a “portable intensive care unit” out to help kids too sick to be cared for in many of Alberta’s smaller communities. Rushing by plane, helicopter or ground ambulance to begin treating children on site, these experts continue to provide life-saving care while transporting them to the Alberta Children’s Hospital where they can benefit from our hospital’s full Emergency Department and ICU resources.
“When a child is critically ill, the challenge is often getting them safely to a specialized pediatric centre from other medical facilities, particularly if they are located in smaller cities or towns,” says Tanya Spence, Pediatric Transport Program Coordinator, Alberta Children’s Hospital. “Our hospital transports over 200 acutely ill children from referring centres each year, and we are getting busier and busier.”
Input from several medical centres, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital has resulted in a central phone number which is helping to streamline the process. Like 911 for hospitals, the centralized line takes all transport calls and filters them to the appropriate facility, with most of the calls for pediatric cases come to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“When a call comes in, we can have a PICU physician consulting over the phone with the referring hospital, while the Transport Team is already on the road or in the air,” says Dr. Mikrogianakis. “With the new phone line in place and a Transport Team that is ready to go 24/7 – we are able to get out to these kids a whole hour sooner in some cases.”
The Transport Team also facilitates transports between our hospital and Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital for the fragile patients requiring heart surgery or returning to Calgary for their recoveries after surgery.