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I Will Do This For My Duke Life Flight Colleagues

As I prepare to take off from New York City, our national memorial from 9/11, I am struck by the changes that we have seen in our lives since 2001.  We have experienced terror, we know of those who are afraid to fly, we have anxiety for the safety of our family and friends because of terrorist threats and attacks, and I am personally very concerned about the future of our healthcare systems.

We lost Duke Life Flight colleagues a few weeks ago in a helicopter crash while transporting a patient to the hospital.  I am in awe of health care professionals who risk their lives daily to place their patients in the right hospital, with the right specialty services, with the right physician, and the right level of care… immediately.

While our Life Flight healthcare heroes focus only on the lives of their patients, they have NO FEAR.

In the meantime, we experience healthcare that is fragmented, dissatisfying, confusing, scary to say the least, and is wrought with severe transport wait times and redundant work. We have lost TIME (20 million unnecessary days in US hospitals), we have lost LIVES (37 thousands patient deaths correlated to ED Boarding/year) and 1.9 million patients leave the ED without being seen each year because we have not created operationally efficient patient flow systems and access to early discharged beds within our hospitals.

Managing patient flow in hospitals and health systems is what I have spent my career working on.  Without knowing it at the time, I have been led to optimize flow in surgical trauma units, heart centers, perioperative suites, emergency departments and ground/air transport programs.  Our greatest resources in healthcare today are our staff who service their patients and the support needs of our hospitals – every single day.  We need to do everything in our power to keep our staff safe so that their patients will get to the right place, at the right time and they will survive.  No patient should ever wait for the care that they deserve.

The families of our fallen comrades are devastated.  But they know that their loved ones died, doing what they love best…. getting their patient to the care that they need and deserve.

So while you are struggling to solve the patient flow problems in your professional lives…

  • challenge the status quo
  • go after the patient focused solutions
  • stomp out resisters
  • invest in the right resources
  • live your life fully with your colleagues
  • appreciate everyone for all that they do
  • reduce every sign of wasteful effort and those barriers that create wait times for your patients

I will do this for Kris Harrison, R.N., Flight Nurse; Crystal Sollinger, R.N., Flight Nurse, and Jeff Burke, Pilot in Command…because no patient should every have to wait for the care that they need.  Our comrades know that… now we do too.


Susan Whitehurst serves as the Managing Director of Advisory Services at TeleTracking.  Susan previously served in various clinical and executive management roles for almost three decades at Duke University Medical Center. To read more about Susan, click here.

Categories: Author: Susan McClean Whitehurst, Patient Flow