The following is not an unusual situation: The paramedics pull up on the scene of an injury. They assess the patient, and let’s say the patient is a seven year-old girl with a broken leg.
Mom: “Can you take her to Regional Medical Center?”
Paramedic: “Well ma’am, Regional does not typically take care of kids, and they do not have an orthopedic doctor on call for their Emergency Department today.”
Mom: “I want her to go to Regional!”
When you call 911, you are calling “help!” in an emergency. Someone is having bad chest pain, or trouble breathing, or is hurt so bad that they cannot be moved without expert help. Of course, you should not call 911 when the situation is clearly NOT an emergency-fever, baby who briefly gagged on mucus, fainting spells (and getting an ambulance ride to the hospital does NOT get you ahead of the line for waiting at the Emergency Department- non-emergencies go to the waiting room like everyone else). When the paramedics show up, the question then arises, where to go?
In many towns in Louisiana, there are several choices for hospitals. What many people don’t know is that each hospital has some capabilities, but not ALL capabilities. Some hospitals are best for broken legs in children, but those hospitals may not be best if grandma is having a stroke. Some people choose the hospital they want to go to by preference- they had a good experience at one hospital, they have a relative who works there, they liked the hospital’s ad on TV.
In an emergency though, you need to take your paramedic’s advice about where to go. The participating ambulance services in Louisiana (including Acadian and Med Express) are tied into a state system called LERN-Louisiana Emergency Response Network. LERN is a separate system from 911. It is a set of dispatch/call centers that keeps tabs on all participating hospitals’ available surgical services, ICU bed capacities, and CT scan services. The purpose of LERN is to quickly tell paramedics which hospital nearest to them can handle that patient’s needs, and save the patient precious time that might be needed for survival. Before LERN, paramedics had to sometimes make two or three time-consuming calls to find a hospital that could manage their patient. Now, one quick call and the ambulance knows where to go and the receiving hospital knows they are coming.
So when you call 911, you need to listen to your paramedic. He or she knows, from LERN, that maybe Lafayette General is closed to orthopedic injuries because their operating rooms are at full capacity; or that Lourdes’ ICU is full and Uncle Joe should go to the Heart Hospital for his chest pain.
If you would like more information about the LERN system, visit them on the web at LERN.La.Gov. And in an emergency, call 911. If it is not an emergency, don’t.