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Talking bed bridges language gap

On the third floor, in the intensive care unit of St. Elizabeth Hospital, sit four “talking beds.”

Each speaks 22 languages from French to Farsi.

“Tourists coming through here to Mount Rainier can be from anywhere in the world,” Franciscan Health Systems Media Relations Manager Gale Robinette said.

“We’re on a tourist route and we’re also a fairly diversified community,” said Tom Hightower, St. Elizabeth acute care manager. “We have people who speak something other than English.”

As a critical access hospital, Director of Patient Services Shelly Pricco said the ability to communicate with patients in their native language not only comforts them in a high-stress situation, but reduces the risk of misinterpretation.

Pricco said 20 percent of Enumclaw Regional Hospital’s patients are non-English speakers, most Spanish. She said many can speak English, but are more relaxed and comfortable communicating in their native language.

The bed, for example, will ask a patient to, on a scale of 1 to 10, determine their level of pain.

“If you don’t speak Arabic, that’s a tough question to ask,” Hightower said.

“Imagine you are in Arabia and have broken your leg or are having a heart attack and no one there speaks your language.”

The computer phrases the questions for yes or no answers or allows patients to communicate by pointing or holding up a number of fingers.

Hightower said the bed allows staff to collect clinical information while reducing patient anxiety because they can communicate.

The beds do not serve as interpreters, but the hospital has access to a full interpretive center at the touch of a button, Pricco said.

Staff can access an interpreter in any language to communicate with families or patients. The face-to-face communication takes place through a portable computer with an online feed.

The beds don’t just talk.

They also contain a computer-controlled air mattress that can turn a patient from side to side. That’s an important feature, Hightower said, for critically ill patients who are prone to skin breakdown at pressure points and pneumonia.

ICU also has noise that can be upsetting to a patient. The beds can be programmed to generate sounds from nature like soothing ocean waves or a babbling brook. They can also play classical or jazz music.

It’s relaxing and diversional, Hightower said. It also can reduce the need for some medications if the patient can relax naturally.

The beds, which cost about $40,000 each, have been out for some time, but St. Elizabeth’s beds are the most advanced of any Franciscan hospital.

Staff is ready

to move patients

St. Elizabeth plans to move the first patient in, either from Enumclaw Regional Hospital, or through the emergency department or family birthing center, at 7 a.m. Feb. 2.

Director of Patient Care Services Shelly Pricco said it will be a community event. Enumclaw and Buckley fire and aid departments will assist in the transfer of patients from one hospital to the other.

Pricco said it will be a well choreographed event with patients moving every 15 minutes. She anticipates it all to be complete by 2 p.m.

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