L&M plans to expand emergency room pediatric care

New London - For the past two months, children brought to the Lawrence & Memorial Hospital emergency room on Monday and Thursday nights have had the specialized care of a pediatrician in a designated area of the hospital away from the main emergency room.

The new service began on a limited basis with one physician, Dr. Katherine Hesse, but plans are to expand it to seven nights a week by the end of this summer as a way to offer specialized pediatric care when pediatricians' offices are closed, said Mike O'Farrell, hospital spokesman. Two more pediatric emergency physicians will be hired for the expansion, he said.

Thus far, Dr. Hesse has been caring for an average of nine patients each time the service is offered from 4 to 11 p.m., he said. Children who come to the emergency room on those two nights are taken to the Same-Day Surgery area so that care can be provided in space away from that used by adult Emergency Department patients.

"This gives children and their families more comfort and privacy, and keeps children out of the mix of everything else that's going on in the emergency department," O'Farrell said.

Dr. Fred Santoro, East Lyme pediatrician and chairman of the L&M Pediatrics Department, said the new service seems to be working well. Patients of his who have used the service have been pleased, he said, and there has been good communication between Dr. Hesse and local pediatricians.

"It does enhance the quality of care of pediatric patients," he said.

Physicians specially trained in pediatric emergencies are better equipped to deal with the special needs of young patients. By having them at L&M, he said, some young patients may not have to be transferred to Yale-New Haven Hospital or Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford for specialized care, he said.

The pediatric emergency service is a partnership between L&M and Yale, which also partners with L&M on cardiac care, radiation oncology and other services. Yale has also been working with L&M on other areas related to improving care for pediatric patients.

L&M is currently under a consent order from the state Department of Public Health, in effect since March 2011 after health department inspectors found more than two dozen violations of health care regulations. The most serious of those violations involved the care of an 11-year-old girl with a ruptured appendix who died at L&M in April 2010.

Bill Gerrish, spokesman for the health department, said Friday that the consent order will remain in effect until March 2013. Two years is the normal span of a consent order, he said. The order will be lifted after that time provided that L&M has demonstrated "substantial and sustained compliance" with public health regulations, he said.

The department, he said, "has had numerous compliance meetings with the hospital and conducted on-site monitoring visits. DPH is satisfied with the corrective actions and their implementation at the hospital."

j.benson@theday.com

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