SPRING HILL — Cathy Edmisten likes to pose a question to visitors at Oak Hill Hospital's new pediatric emergency room.
"Do you feel like you're in Dr. Seuss Land?" asks the registered nurse and Oak Hill's director of emergency services. "If so, then I've achieved my goal."
Edmisten picked the colors for the new center, paint hues with names such as Berry Burst and Electric Lime.
She opted for Sonic the Hedgehog video games for the Xbox consoles that will hang below the 27-inch flat-screen televisions in eight private examination rooms.
And she made sure the unit is equipped with ouch-less syringes that use bursts of air instead of needles to administer medication.
Those are some of the key ingredients of the 2,200-square-foot center, the first fully dedicated pediatric emergency room in Citrus and Hernando counties.
"It's all about distraction and making kids feel like, 'That wasn't so bad; I'm not afraid of the doctor,' " Edmisten said.
Oak Hill officials have for years considered what other services are needed to better serve the community, and a separate ER for children rose to the top of the list, Edmisten said.
The idea didn't take a large capital investment, just a decision to dedicate existing space. The hospital spent about $55,000 to re-purpose an area that most recently housed its quick care unit.
The rationale is simple, Edmisten said.
"Kids don't need to see everything going on in an emergency room. It's scary," she said. "Now they'll know this is their ER."
Oak Hill's emergency room sees an average of 3,700 young patients a year. Under the existing setup, they share treatment facilities with adult patients, so a child with a sprained ankle could be in the next bed during the tense drama of a life-threatening emergency, such as a heart patient going into cardiac arrest.
Starting Sunday, families with young patients who pass through the swooshing doors of Oak Hill's Entrance E will head down a hallway adjacent to the existing emergency room, through a set of swinging doors and into one of the private rooms.
There will be at least one dedicated nurse and paramedic in the unit at all times, with a floating ER physician and physician assistant. Once patient volume increases, the center will get a dedicated physician and assistant, Edmisten said.
The private rooms are the perfect home for the electronic pediatric medication dosage software the hospital bought within the last year or so, Edmisten said.
The center will be friendlier for parents and siblings of patients, too. The unit features an activity room where waiting family members can play virtual board games on an Xbox hooked up to a 40-inch flat-screen television.
On Wednesday, as painters rolled the vibrant colors onto the wall, Edmisten walked over to a stack of yet-to-be-hung framed art and selected a photo of hot air balloons, the motif for the unit. With this decor, older children and teens won't roll their eyes at, say, pictures of SpongeBob SquarePants, said Edmisten, whose two teenagers provided input.
Beyond the capital costs for the unit, Oak Hill is investing to train nurses in pediatric emergency care procedures, Edmisten said.
The addition of Oak Hill's dedicated emergency room is one more positive step in a gradual but deliberate process to improve pediatric services in Hernando County, said Dr. Imad Jandali, a pediatrician who came to Hernando in 1989 and serves as an on-call physician for Oak Hill and Spring Hill Regional hospitals.
"It really will help a lot," said Jandali. "We're going to see more and more hospitals adapt their ERs for kids. Most of the families will be happy to go to an emergency room where they know their children will be specially cared for."
Spring Hill Regional's emergency services department has a separate pediatric entrance and child-friendly exam and waiting rooms, said Denise Barbera, the hospital's chief nursing officer. The hospital also opened the county's first Level II neonatal intensive care unit, and staffers therefore have advanced training in pediatric care and emergencies, Barbera said.
What is still missing — and what some parents and community members have begun to lobby for in recent years — is a critical care pediatric unit that can treat the most severe injuries and offer the most specialized services. The three local hospitals have agreements with bigger medical centers in Tampa and St. Petersburg, where trauma patients arrive after a 15-minute helicopter flight.
Hernando's size, the expense of specialized care and the lack of a broad range of specialists are the main reasons why the county doesn't have pediatric critical care services.
Dedicated ER facilities like Oak Hill's will help, Jandali said.
"Having the pediatric ER will be the first nucleus," he said. "After that, we may consider having more specialists taking care of patients. That will be a blessing."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.