Intensive care in critical access hospitals.
CONTEXT: Although critical access hospitals (CAHs) have limitations on number of acute care beds and average length of stay, some of them provide intensive care unit (ICU) services. PURPOSE: To describe the facilities, equipment, and staffing used by CAHs for intensive care, the types of patients receiving ICU care, and the perceived impact of closing the ICU on CAH staff and the local community. METHODS: A semistructured interview of directors of nursing at CAHs that provide intensive care services. RESULTS: Two thirds of CAHs that provide intensive care do so in a distinct unit. Most have continuous or computerized electrocardiography and ventilators. Other ICU equipment common in larger hospitals was reported less frequently. Nurse:patient ratio ranged from 1:1 to 1:3, and some or all nursing staff have advanced cardiac life support certification. Most CAHs admit patients to the ICU daily or weekly, primarily treating cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, endocrine, and drug- or alcohol-related conditions. ICUs are also used for postsurgical recovery. Respondents felt that closure of the ICU would be burdensome to patients and families, result in lost revenue, negatively impact staff, and affect the community's perception of the hospital. CONCLUSIONS: Intensive care services provided by CAHs fall along a continuum, ranging from care in a unit that resembles a scaled-down version of ICUs in larger hospitals to care in closely monitored medical-surgical beds. Nurse to patient ratio, not technology, is arguably the defining characteristic of intensive care in CAHs. Respondents believe these services to be important to the well-being of the hospital and of the community.
Freeman, VA; Walsh, J; Rudolf, M; Slifkin, RT; Skinner, AC
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