Timely transport: SWAT team celebrates 20 years at Michigan Medicine

December 3, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

A look at the SWAT team at Michigan Medicine.

As a global destination for patient care, Michigan Medicine serves high acuity patients every day.

Often, however, such specialized care takes place in all areas of the academic medical center — sometimes a great distance from inpatient units.

So how do critical patients get from one destination to another — and how do they do so in a safe and timely manner? They depend on the Michigan Medicine SWAT team, which stands for Specialized Workforce for Acute Transport.

As SWAT celebrates its 20th anniversary, here’s what you may not know about the team that gets patients to the vital procedures they need as safely as possible.

Lightening the load

SWAT is made up of registered nurses and paramedics, who are tasked with moving patients from one in-house area to another.

For instance, if a patient in the intensive care unit needs to get a CT scan, SWAT will be called in to transport the patient back-and-forth between the two areas. The nurses and medics are trained to take over the patient care from the bedside nurse and monitor vital signs and other important measurements during transport.

“Before we began in 1998, it was the bedside nurses who were taking the patients to these procedures,” said Denise Landis, manager of SWAT. “That was taking them away from their ability to provide care to all of their patients, while also increasing nurses’ stress levels and dissatisfaction.”

Thus, SWAT was created, lightening the workload for nurses on individual units. It quickly became an important resource for faculty and staff.

Growing to meet demand

“When we began, we had just two nurses and they focused solely on the adult ICU,” Landis said. “We also were only in service during the day shift, Monday through Friday.”

That first year, SWAT received 909 transport requests. Ten years later, it had grown to 7,771 requests — and the team expanded to include 19 nurses and eight paramedics. SWAT also became a 24/7 operation and provided bedside sedations, allowing patients to have procedures with little or no pain.

SWAT responds to more than 12,000 requests per year.

Today, SWAT members respond to more than 12,000 requests a year and there are 27 nurses and 18 paramedics. They go to all areas of the medical center except the operating rooms and ambulatory clinics, as those areas already have established transport protocols in place.

“We will continue to adapt and grow to meet demand, no matter what that demand is,” Landis said. “Because we’re committed to helping caregivers provide the best care possible, while getting patients to their appointments quickly so diagnoses can be made. The more efficient our organization is, the safer our patients will be.”

Teamwork and collaboration

Faculty and staff are encouraged to utilize SWAT whenever possible. They can do so by paging 8000 and making a request.

“Whenever a request is made, our team triages to prioritize which patients will be assisted in which order,” said Tom O’Connell, a registered nurse with SWAT. “So if you have any doubt as to whether a patient is appropriate for us to transport, reach out. If they are, we’ll step in and help. If not, we can point you to the right resources that are available, such as patient transport, which works with lower-acuity patients.”

Once a determination is made, SWAT works directly with the procedure area to work out logistics.

“We are constantly in communication with colleagues to ensure patients will be treated in a timely fashion,” O’Connell said. “Time is of the essence with these patients, so we make sure they aren’t waiting for help once they arrive.”

In the end, SWAT has embraced change since its inception in 1998. Yet, while its numbers and services have grown, the team has stayed the same in many ways, as well.

“We’ve always been focused on teamwork and collaboration,” Landis said. “And I don’t see that changing at all in the decades to come.”