Geisinger Working to Make all Emergency Rooms Ready for Kids

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When emergency rooms are equipped to care for children, outcomes are significantly better for young patients — which is why Geisinger is preparing every ER in the system to specifically treat children.

The effort is led by Sarah Alander, MD, Geisinger director of pediatric emergency medicine, who has made readying Geisinger ERs for the 45,000 kids seen each year, systemwide, a priority.

“A 2019 landmark study found that if an emergency room is trained and equipped to care for children, they are four times less likely to have a child die in their care,” Dr. Alander said. “It is important to provide the training to our emergency room staffs so they’re equipped to treat children safely and effectively and not treat them as small adults.”

A nationwide program called the National Pediatric Readiness Project offers a voluntary survey to assess a trauma center’s level of preparedness for children’s care. Beginning in June 2025, the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation — the trauma center accreditation body for state hospitals — will require hospitals to conduct pediatric readiness assessments and have plans to address gaps.

Geisinger has already voluntarily participated in the survey and created a council to help improve gaps at its hospitals. Geisinger’s Emergency Medical Services for Children Council, led by Dr. Alander, focuses on six areas improve pediatric readiness:

  • Identifying personnel as “pediatric champions” at each emergency department
  • Educating nurses and providing a pediatric critical care course and simulation training for physicians 
  • Joining national quality improvement programs on pediatric sepsis and airway management
  • Attending regular safety meetings and reviewing safety events
  • Compiling a collection of policies and procedures for children  
  • Working to standardize specialized equipment for the emergency care of children

The council’s work on these priorities has yielded remarkable results.

“In 2019, our system participated in the national pediatric readiness survey for the first time and had scores ranging from 40% to 68%,” said Megan Zelonis, RN, pediatric emergency care coordinator. “In the repeat 2021 assessment, our scores significantly improved to a range of 83% to 94%.”