Children are frequent patients at emergency rooms, and once there, they usually have to deal with adult-sized issues. Not so at Oak Hill Hospital, which opened the first dedicated pediatric emergency room in Citrus and Hernando counties last October.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Emergency Physicians saw that emergency rooms were not well equipped for pediatrics,” said Cathy Edmisten, RN, Oak Hill’s Director of Emergency Services. “We decided to put some focus there, not only from a purely nursing perspective, but also to address a huge need in the community.”

“We closed our obstetrics unit several years ago, and pediatricians began referring to a competitor hospital,” Edmisten said. “We still had a lot of children coming into our ER, about 3,700 a year, so we thought we might be able to offer a more comprehensive pediatric service to the area.”

Working from guidelines by the Emergency Nurses Association, a team came up with what would be needed for a pediatric ER, and discovered that the costs wouldn’t be prohibitive as much of the infrastructure already was in place. Repurposing the 2,200-square-foot unit cost about $55,000, and that included everything from bright paint to large-screen televisions and video-game consoles. During the first full month of operation, pediatric ER volume rose 46 percent over the previous year. More importantly, new practices such as a 24-hour follow up call to parents positioned Oak Hill as a trusted healthcare resource for area residents.

“We’ve heard everything from ‘I didn’t know you were here’ to ‘I can’t believe you’ve done this,’” Edmisten said. “Parents rave about the visit, about the nurses they met, about how bright and colorful the facility is. It really is a different feeling, and when they tell you that their child wasn’t scared, you know you’re onto something.”