Wait times at Olympic Medical Center emergency department improving, board told

Hospital aims to see patients within 30 minutes of arrival

PORT ANGELES — Sound Physicians, the company that provides emergency department services to Olympic Medical Center, has been meeting its performance goals and working to improve patient experience.

Regional Medical Director Krishna Nimmagadda and Medical Director Joseph Chang said last Wednesday that emergency department visits are starting to reach pre-COVID numbers, and they expect numbers will to continue to grow. Since January, the department has averaged about 72 patients a day.

Chang said Sound Physicians is aiming for clinicians to see a person within 30 minutes of his or her arrival; it had consistently met that standard since July 2023. Last month, the median time wait time was about seven minutes.

In April 2023, the median wait time was 18 minutes and in 2022 it was 70 minutes.

Adding a clinician to assess and prioritize patient care has contributed to shorter median wait times, Chang said. While triage also is having a positive impact on reducing the number of patients who leave the emergency department without being seen, Sound Physicians recently hired a patient navigator who will contact patients to follow up on their medical care.

Board commissioner Phyllis Bernard said she would like the community to see how the emergency department’s wait and response times have been reduced and delivery of care improved since Sound Physicians replaced Peninsula Emergency Services in October 2022.

“How can we share the good news based on statistics?” Bernard said. “How do we break through the impressions left behind by the people that preceded you?”

Chang said one possibility is to present and explain the data that monitors the emergency department waiting area. Another, he said, is to let people know about some of the new and enhanced services OMC is implementing.

Those include becoming a certified stroke center in June and working toward accreditation as a geriatric emergency department.

OMC also will be adding telenephrology to expand its ability to diagnose and treat kidney problems and telecardiology to support cardiac patients.

That is important information to communicate, Chang said, because 45 percent of patients seen in OMC’s emergency department are 65 and older compared to the national average of about 20 percent.

OMC’s emergency department is still not fully staffed, but Nimmagadda anticipated that to be resolved in two or three months.

“We started with about a team of 14 providers, including physicians and APPs (advanced practice professionals), and we are only looking for one physician and one advanced practice professional,” Nimmagadda said.

During public comment, Nancy Stephanz, a former hospitalist at OMC, said the board needs to start considering fundamental changes in the way hospital operates should the levy lid lift it placed on the Aug. 6 primary ballot fail.

“You have no plan B,” Stephanz said. “I believe you need to divest the oncology providers from your payroll and you need to change OMC to a critical access hospital. There is no way to change the reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid in time to keep our doors open without using this option.”

Among Stephanz’s suggestions for increasing revenue are developing a transportation service for patients whose procedures aren’t performed at OMC and renegotiating contracts with insurance companies to improve reimbursement rates.

Commissioner John Nutter said Stephanz’s message was not falling on deaf ears.

“A lot of the things you spoke to are things we think about and keep us up at night,” Nutter said. “I would love critical access, but our community needs more than 25 beds. Our charge as the elected people in charge of this facility is to take care of the community, and we can’t tell two-thirds of our community, ‘Sorry, we can’t take care of you, because we don’t have a bed for you.’”

OMC lost $28 million last year and $5.185 million during the first three months of 2024. It is among 85 percent of hospitals around the state facing significant financial pressure from increasing costs to deliver care and reimbursement rates from government payers like Medicare that have remained flat.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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