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When it really matters, Westerly Hospital’s Emergency Department is the best option

Monica Eppinger
When Monica Eppinger took a bad fall down the stairs of her North Stonington home this past summer, she told the responding ambulance crew, “I want to go to Westerly Hospital.”

After all, the hospital’s Emergency Department had already saved her life once.

Months earlier, before her fall, Eppinger suffered an even more dramatic and dangerous episode. A sudden allergic reaction to a medication caused her throat and tongue to swell, impeding her ability to breathe. That time, as her husband, Frank, drove her to the hospital, Monica’s ability to take in oxygen was diminishing with every passing minute.

Eppinger suddenly saw her life passing before her eyes.

“I went to triage, and they immediately took me in,” she recalled. “My throat was so swollen they couldn’t get a tube down, so they had to do a tracheotomy.”

It would be days before Eppinger fully recovered, and much of what happened she doesn’t clearly remember due to anesthesia. What she does know is that the emergency providers at Westerly Hospital responded with an unwavering commitment to save her life.

“I am very grateful for their professionalism and caring,” she said, recounting her story. “The nursing staff, after I came around, they were so compassionate, caring. They kept me in the know all the time. They asked how I was feeling. And the team in the ER, I believe they saved my life. If I had gone anywhere else, I might not have made it, because time was of the essence.”

At the hospital that night, as is always the case, doctors, nurses and support staff were ready. Whether tending to a summer surfing accident from Misquamicut Beach, a child who fell off a bike or something truly life threatening, the emergency staff at Westerly Hospital understands that the next person coming through the door is the most important patient. “Our Emergency Department is fully staffed 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. We are ready for any life-threatening condition or injury around the clock,” said Ryan Carter, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Westerly Hospital. Dr. Carter was on duty the night Eppinger came in with a condition known clinically as angioedema. “We called on all of our resources to help Mrs. Eppinger, and we appreciate the assistance from the other departments and staff in the hospital – respiratory therapy, anesthesia, ENT and our hospitalist team,” he said. “We were able to take care of her locally without transferring her anywhere else for her entire course of treatment. It’s exactly what we would do for anyone in a similar situation.” In addition to clinical expertise, Ralph Miro, RN, director of nursing for the ED, noted that “our caregivers provide each patient with a level of warmth and love that makes them feel comfortable and secure, because we know how hard it can be. It’s state-of-the-art clinical care and also human care.” Betty Gingerella, RN, clinical coordinator, is proud of the ED team. “We’ve got people who are highly trained who really know how to work as a team, especially when faced with something difficult, and we’ve had some difficult cases come through those doors,” she said.

“This overall approach to emergency medicine gives the Westerly area something special,” Miro said. “If you’re coming to Westerly Hospital with an emergency, our ED is state-of-the-art. We have top clinicians, top nurses and support staff, and even though this is a small community hospital, the level of care provided is on par, in my opinion, with any hospital in the country.”

Eppinger agrees. In fact, on her second visit to the ED at Westerly, after her fall, she was actually able to speak to Dr. Carter, thanking him for his help on her first visit, when she could not speak.

Today, Eppinger remains thankful to Westerly Hospital for helping her survive. She does not take any of it for granted.

“I have a strong constitution,” she said. “I have a good faith, a good family. But this greatly affected my family. Now, I appreciate life so much more. I have four grandchildren, I have three wonderful children, a husband. It makes you take stock of your life, and how you conduct your life. I feel very blessed.”