Published on May 30, 2016

Hospitals ready for action as summer arrives

Hospitals ready for action as summer arrives

They start arriving Memorial Day weekend and really ramp up during the third week of June, when the school year ends. By July 4, it’s a population explosion that doesn’t crest until Labor Day.

Welcome to Cape Cod, where 217,000 fulltime residents brace for the arrival of nearly half a million renters, second-home owners and other summer visitors.

Most towns double, even triple and quadruple in population. Those in the Outer Cape can see their numbers rise nearly 10 times, spurred in part by the lure of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which attracts some 4 million visitors a year.

The surge in summer population has dramatic implications for the Cape’s environment, roads, economy—and healthcare system.

From the green grocer at the local supermarket, who must triple his order of broccoli, to restaurants recruiting scores of summer help, the Cape in early June assumes the feel of an army readying for battle.

Cape hospital add nurses, supplies

Nowhere is this more evident than at the region’s two hospitals, Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and Falmouth Hospital in Falmouth, as well as Cape Cod Healthcare’s growing array of urgent care centers and outpatient clinics from Harwich to Falmouth.

“When you come to work in the summer, you work nonstop for the entire shift,” said Regina Reed, RN, a clinical leader at the Yawkey Emergency Center at Falmouth Hospital.

Cape Cod Healthcare recruits experienced temporary nurses from across the country to supplement staff, especially in the emergency departments at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals. Falmouth Hospital brings on nine additional ER nurses for the summer; at Cape Cod Hospital, 19 join the staff.

The hospitals’ emergency centers were remodeled and expanded last year to accommodate the ever-rising number of summer patients. At Cape Cod Hospital, the number of ER rooms with beds almost doubled, to 52. At some hours of the day, the ER could be serving as many as 100 patients. Falmouth’s emergency department now has 33 rooms, up from 23.

At Cape Cod Hospital, emergency room visits in 2015 jumped by 63 percent, to more than 9,200 in July and August.

“Come the summer, every room is being used virtually around the clock,” said Reed.

Sundays and Mondays are the busiest days of the week in the ERs, with Fridays close behind.

Triage specialists determine which patients need attention in the ER and direct others to adjacent “Fast Track” sections, staffed by ER doctors and nurses who tend to less serious injuries and maladies, from cuts and bruises to minor broken bones, and from ear infections to stomach aches.

Healthcare behind the scenes

In the materials management department, Mike Barry, director of materials management operations at Cape Cod Hospital, and his staff work algorithms to anticipate the increased demand for everything from sutures and IV bags to linens and laboratory testing equipment.

Materials management is the lymph system of the hospital, responsible for about $60 million in purchases of equipment, supplies and services – from bandages to beds.

Barry’s department orders up to 45 percent more antibiotics during the summer months than in the winter. On average, Cape Cod Hospital’s emergency room uses 1,430 doses of antibiotics in July and August, up from 1,050 doses in February or March.

At Falmouth Hospital’s ER, the number of antibiotic doses climbs to more than 700 in a typical summer month, up from about 490 a month in the winter.In July and August, Cape Cod Hospital uses nearly 40 percent more needles and syringes in the emergency room than in February. It also uses double the number of bandages and three times the number of ice packs. Sutures used in August are nearly four times the number used in March.

“We start meeting with medical and surgical distributors in April and tell them what we predict we will need from June through September,” explained Barry. “We investigate every item we order and make assumptions based on historical knowledge. That can involve 100,000 unique items organized within 70 categories. We cannot afford to surprise our distributors and manufacturers because for many supplies, including drugs, the supply chain cannot adjust dramatically on the run.”

And Barry’s calculations now extend to the four Urgent Care Centers in Harwich, Hyannis, Sandwich and Falmouth. Patients at these facilities suffer from sore throats, sprains, cuts and lacerations, minor burns, back pain, diarrhea, colds, coughs and some fevers.  Chances are many of them will be visiting far away from their hometown doctors.


Top 10 emergency room complaints in the summer

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Lacerations and cuts
  • Shortness of breath
  • Falls from bikes as well as walking and running
  • Shortness of breath
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness