Western Maryland Regional Medical Center, Cumberland, was outfitted with real-time locating system technology when it opened in November 2009. But unlike many of its peers, the 275-bed facility went beyond using an RTLS for such tasks as asset tracking.

The facility added RTLS capabilities to track patients in its 17-bed behavioral health unit to help prevent elopements and to manage patients who might try to access other patient rooms in the unit.

"We had a unique opportunity because we were building a new hospital, and we wanted to build a state-of-the-art facility that would accommodate patient needs using available technology," says Jeffery O'Neal, system director for the medical center's behavioral and occupational health services department.

He notes that the RTLS has provided an extra layer of safety to patients and staff. Prior to having the RTLS, the unit averaged 14 elopement attempts per year, O'Neal says, adding that these cases involved patients' leaving the unit but not the facility. In the four-plus years since implementation, there has not been a single elopement from the department.

Last April, the unit installed staff-assistance software and badges equipped with call buttons linked to the RTLS. When a badge button is pressed, the software sends a pop-up alert showing both the staff member's name and location to workstations in the facility's call center, as well as to nurse stations and wireless phones.

The technology has provided a vast improvement in response times, O'Neal says, with a four-minute average response for staff assistance compared with 14 minutes previously. While those are average times for the entire code response team to be deployed, the response actually begins as soon as the button is pushed. That notifies other staff on the unit immediately and they respond within seconds. Prior to having the RTLS capability, staff members used portable phones to call a code, which wasn't always possible if they were under duress.

"We're all trained to de-escalate situations, but just knowing you have that extra protection makes it a lot easier to press the button on the badge," says Vicki Svensson, R.N., nurse manager in the behavioral health unit.