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Published on July 27, 2016

Summer on the Cape: fun, sun and ambulances

Summer on the Cape: fun, sun and ambulances

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In the summer, Cape Cod is like a sparkling jewel, calling visitors from around the world to its rolling dunes, legendary seafood and charming boutiques. And come they do, revealing the other side of life in a beloved tourist destination: a population that triples, road-clogging traffic—and more than a few sirens.

On a recent 20-minute drive along scenic Route 6a, three ambulances rushed by—two from Brewster and one from Dennis—each heading to the Emergency Department at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

The surge in summer population has dramatic implications for the Cape’s environment, roads, economy—and healthcare system. From emergency rooms to urgent care clinics, summer in full swing also means full alert for 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.

Emergency room visits at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals crest in July and August, statistics show. Last summer, the two facilities saw a combined 9296 patients in July and 9202 in August, a 62 percent jump from the lowest monthly total for the year, in February.

This summer, the busiest day so far in the Cape Cod Hospital ER was July 3, when doctors and nurses treated 342 patients. At Falmouth, July 5 was the most hectic of summer days, with 149 patients. And Falmouth is already preparing for what is typically its second busiest patient volume—Sunday, Aug. 21—the day of the Falmouth Road Race.

Summer workloads at Cape Cod Healthcare require experienced temporary nurses from across the country to supplement staff, especially in the emergency departments at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals. Falmouth Hospital brought on nine additional ER nurses for the summer and Cape Cod Hospital added 19.

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.

“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.