Improving the Patient Transport Experience for Kids in Crisis

Improving the Patient Transport Experience for Kids in Crisis

Nationwide Children's Hospital created a "safe car" for behavioral health-related patient transports, helping to reduce stigma and ease anxiety.
Creating a safe, welcoming environment for children amid a behavioral health crisis was a top priority for the leadership team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital when it designed and built the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion on the hospital’s campus in Columbus, Ohio. But for many patients, that feeling begins before they reach the pavilion’s doors; Nationwide Children’s created a customized “safe car” specifically for patient transports to and from the main hospital and the behavioral health facility.

“It's more comfortable for our patients; instead of having to ride in an ambulance, they're getting into the back of a Chevy Tahoe,” says Jen Loughry, protective services sergeant, Nationwide Children’s. “It's a little more normal and what they're used to—it’s like getting into their parents’ car.”

Specialized vehicle enhances safety for all patients

Of course, this is not your typical parent’s SUV. Nationwide Children’s retrofitted the safe car with modifications to keep all passengers safe and prevent patient elopement, including:

  • A divider behind the front seat to keep patients from interfering with the driver.
  • Seat belt vests that provide additional security for patients who require them.
  • Indicator lights that alert the driver if the patient has unbuckled their seat belt.
  • Door handles in the back seat that are disabled—the rear doors must be opened from the outside.
  • A locking trunk compartment to ensure the patient’s belongings are secured during the transport.

In addition to maintaining a secure environment, the safe car provides a benefit for other children who may never ride in it. Having a dedicated behavioral health transport vehicle means ambulances—often used by children’s hospitals for these transfers—remain in service for medical emergencies. 

Transport benefits go beyond safety

While the safe car provides a safer and more secure patient transport, it is also better suited to address the needs of a child in a behavioral health crisis. Loughry says it’s more comfortable and less anxiety inducing to ride in an SUV than an ambulance. 
With a safe car transport, a protective services officer and a behavioral health specialist accompany the patient from the pickup location to the behavioral health center—improving the continuity of care and a smoother transition for the patient. And travelling in the relatively nondescript vehicle makes what is already a difficult time for the patient a little easier.

“It helps reduce some extra attention being brought upon the patient—especially when they're possibly in crisis,” says Ashley Alexander, M.S.N., RN, CNL, CPN, patient flow coordinator. “It’s a lot less disruptive than having the patient get into an ambulance.”

Catering to patient comfort

It cost Nationwide about $5,000 to transform a standard Chevy Tahoe into a safe car, and it’s being put to good use—through the first six months of 2021, the safe car has completed more than 1,500 patient transfers. 

Alexander and Loughry say the increased safety and enhanced patient experience is worth the investment and add that the safe car comes with one feature that even some parents may not allow in their own SUV—control of the radio.

“The staff will often ask the patient what genre of music they prefer, or if there’s a particular artist they’d like to hear,” Alexander says. “It’s very helpful in the transition—it makes it a little more positive.”


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