MUSC Health opens specialty ED to streamline care

May 23, 2022
a female doctor in white coat stands behind a counter speaking to two nurses, whose backs are to the camera
Dr. Cynthia Oliva chats with nurses at the emergency department in Ashley River Tower on Courtenay Drive.

A new Emergency Department (ED) at MUSC Health on peninsular Charleston offers a more streamlined, efficient process for patients with the same high level of care as the original University Hospital ED.

Actually, the department isn’t entirely new – when Ashley River Tower on Courtenay Drive opened in 2008, it included the Chest Pain Center for heart emergencies. But that center has since developed into an all-purpose ED, and as the health system’s footprint on the peninsula has grown and changed, it’s started to make sense to direct patients to MUSC Health EDs according to where they’re most likely to receive ongoing care.

In other words, because the heart, vascular and gastrointestinal specialists work out of ART, it makes sense for patients with emergencies that fall under these categories to go to the new Specialty and Women’s Emergency Department that’s right there in the same building. And because ART is connected via a skyway to the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion, it makes sense for women with gynecological emergencies or who are less than 20 weeks pregnant to seek care nearby at ART.

But not to worry, said Cynthia Oliva, M.D., assistant medical director of the adult EDs on the Charleston campus. Patients will receive excellent care whether they arrive at the University Hospital ED on Jonathan Lucas Street or two blocks away at the Specialty and Women’s Emergency Department on Courtenay.

“Both EDs are here for comprehensive acute care, and we can handle any emergency at both,” she said. “We just have this specialty ED because it brings all the care to the patient a little bit more efficiently and in a more timely fashion because the personnel, the pathways – all of that is here for those specialty conditions.”

photo of a door with a red sign stating Specialty and Women's Emergency and Chest Pain Center 
The Specialty and Women's Emergency Department is in Ashley River Tower at 25 Courtenay Drive.

So if the emergency medicine physician wants a consult from a GI, vascular or heart specialist, she said, “they’re just a floor above, as opposed to two streets away.”

The emergency medicine doctors rotate between the two buildings, so all of them are familiar with the setup and nursing personnel at each location.

Most patients won’t need to remember which building to go to, as most patients are brought in by ambulance. EMS drivers call into a central MUSC Health dispatcher, who then directs them where to go – though most drivers already have a good sense of which ED will be appropriate for their patients.

David Soper, M.D., senior medical director for Women’s Health, said this division should provide a better experience for patients.

During regular office hours, women who are pregnant should first call their doctor’s office if something seems amiss, he said. The OB-GYN office will be able to get them in quickly and have them checked out.

After hours, pregnant women who are more than 20 weeks along in their pregnancies should head to Labor and Delivery at Pearl Tourville. Women who are less than 20 weeks should go to the Specialty and Women’s ED at ART, where they can be seen by emergency medicine physicians who can care for them without being called away to attend to full-term patients in labor, Soper said.

Still, a woman in labor who shows up at the ED instead of Labor and Delivery will be well cared for. That happens about once a week, Oliva said.

Most of the time, there’s plenty of time to conduct a medical screening and stabilization, alert the OB team and arrange for a transfer. But the ED team has certainly delivered babies, she said. The ED has all the necessary supplies, including a baby warmer, and its physicians are certified in neonatal resuscitation.

In addition, most cancer patients with an emergency should also go to the new Specialty and Women’s ED. As is the case with the heart, vascular and GI specialists, most cancer doctors work out of ART and thus their patients with emergencies should go to the ED housed there.

The exception for cancer patients is gynecological cancer patients. Oliva said the decision was made to keep these patients at the University Hospital ED so they would be closer to the specialized operating rooms and equipment that are often needed in those cases. There is also a gynecological resident on site 24/7 at University Hospital, she said.

But Oliva emphasized that patients will receive top-notch care even if they’re not sure of which location to go to.

“We have access to all the MUSC resources regardless of the location you do go,” she said.

“Regardless, you will get excellent care in a timely manner.”