When Care Can’t Wait 

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When rushing to the hospital to seek treatment for critical and emergency care at full-service emergency rooms, people are often faced with long wait times.

In recent years, hospital-affiliated freestanding emergency departments (FEDs) have been opening in the Rio Grande Valley and across the country. These facilities make medical treatment much more accessible to patients seeking rapid, quality care.

South Texas Health System (STHS) recognized the need for FEDs and in 2015 began opening freestanding emergency departments in South Texas. Remaining true to their motto, “We are where you need us to be,” STHS has continued to bring quality emergency care to patients throughout South Texas.

“Our freestanding ERs are customer-focused in terms of being easily accessible and providing rapid treatment,” said Universal Health Services (STHS’ parent company) Vice President of Emergency and Urgent Care Doug Matney.

Matney works with 20 FEDs across the nation, including the six of STHS located in the Valley, which form part of the South Texas Health System Trauma & Critical Care Institute.

“All of our freestanding emergency departments are open 24/7, year-round and they are always staffed with a physician on duty and at least two registered nurses,” he explained. “We also offer full diagnostic services.”

The full diagnostic services, which are also available on outpatient basis, include full laboratory service, imaging services, including CAT scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays, preventive screenings and athletic physicals.  Patients are guaranteed these services will be done on-site, and the information is provided to the inhouse physician or referring doctor for review, diagnosis, and treatment, if necessary. All of this is usually completed within two hours or less, Matney added. This appeals to those patients who need to be seen after hours or who don’t want to wait between appointments.

The goal, Matney said, is to immediately register a patient, place them in an exam room, take their vitals and treat and diagnose in the same room — and do it all in a timely manner, two hours or less. Located in the “primary draw” areas near hospitals and in periphery areas that reach the edges of South Texas, all six FEDs are chest pain ready, meaning they are certified in chest pain management. On average, the FEDs see 50 to 60 patients per day.

“Meeting a national standard like this (Chest Pain Certification) really raises the bar in terms of what is expected and places FEDs on par with the same level of care one would expect at a full-service hospital,” Matney said. “In terms of FEDs, we had the first two in Texas to become Chest Pain Certified, which were the facilities located in Mission and in Weslaco.”

The Mission and Weslaco FEDs are also Acute Stroke Certified and can provide immediate care for strokes — including through the use of life-saving medications — then transport patients to STHS’ Comprehensive Stroke Center at South Texas Health System McAllen.

The STHS facilities also provide outpatient diagnostic and laboratory services including thyroid exams, men’s and women’s health checks, diabetes screenings, sports physicals and other wellness panels. All sites offer X-rays and CAT Scans and the Mission and Weslaco sites offer mammography and bone density screenings, with the Weslaco site also offering MRIs.

“Our priority at all of our STHS facilities and FEDs is getting the patient comfortable and taking care of the immediate medical care condition as efficiently as possible,” Matney said.

To find an STHS FED near you, visit SouthTexasHealthSystem.com/ER.

Selene Guerrero