Calling a code: Shorthand communication alert staff to emergencies

Anyone who has watched hospital-based dramas on TV is familiar with overhead pages, such as “code blue,” that signify an emergency. 


In general, emergency codes used by hospitals fall into three categories: facility, security and medical. Hallmark Health System employs a dozen codes to convey critical information in an emergency. 

Anyone can call a code; stickers with code names and phone numbers are affixed to phone handles throughout the system. Among the most frequent codes called are for fire, security and assistance in the emergency department. 

“When we have a sudden influx of patients in the ED and we need more resources, we call a ‘code help,’” said Chief Nursing Officer Pamela Duchene, PhD, APRN-BC. “This most often brings a response from nurses, supervisors and physicians, plus representatives from security, administration, transport and environmental services. Everyone comes together to ensure that patients are safe and cared for appropriately.” 

“Most ‘code help’ incidents involve the lack of beds,” said Chair of Emergency Services Alexander Walker, MD, MBA, FACEP. “Either all beds in the ED are in use or there are no available beds up on the inpatient floors for a patient who needs to be admitted. Having more hands on deck helps us with everything from bringing temporary beds to the ED area to facilitating the preparation of patient rooms on the inpatient units. This matters because studies show that the quicker a new patient can be brought into the ED to be worked up or an admitted patient can be moved out of the ED to an inpatient unit, the safer he or she will be.” 

‘Code help’ challenge met on Super Bowl Sunday
According to ED nurse Paul Champagne, RN, “…just after noon we got extremely busy, the waiting room started to fill up, ambulances were arriving fast and furious, and no one was being discharged or admitted fast enough to decompress the ED. We called a ‘code help’ and got support from the charge nurses from the floors as well as calls from Drs. Sbardella, Doherty and Walker. I was not at all surprised to see everyone working together and providing top-notch care to every patient in our overcrowded ED.”

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Hallmark Health System, in partnership with The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, The...


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