Background: In the context that special weaning units have been advocated as effective alternatives to the ICU for weaning selected patients, we initiated a Respiratory Special Care Unit (ReSCU) at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital in August 1993. The goals of the ReSCU were the following: (1) to wean ventilator-dependent patients when possible; and (2) when weaning was not possible, to optimize patient and family instruction for patients going home with ventilatory support. This study presents our 4-year experience with 212 patients managed in the ReSCU and analyzes clinical features associated with favorable clinical outcomes.
Methods: The features of the ReSCU include six private beds in a pulmonary inpatient ward staffed by nurses with special pulmonary expertise; 24-h respiratory therapy supervision; bedside and central noninvasive monitoring (i.e., continuous pulse oximetry, end tidal capnometry, and ventilator alarms); and a multidisciplinary approach involving dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and speech pathologists. All ReSCU patients were cared for primarily by a pulmonary/critical care attending physician and fellow, with consultative input solicited as deemed necessary. The criteria for admission to the ReSCU included hemodynamic stability; absence of an arrhythmia requiring telemetry; and in the attending physician's judgment, the ability to benefit from the ReSCU.
Results: Between August 23, 1993, and August 31, 1997, 212 patients were admitted to the ReSCU. The median age was 68 years old; 55% were women; 86% were white; and 55% were transferred from the medical ICU. Underlying reasons for ventilator dependence were ARDS from a nonsurgical cause (33%), ARDS following surgery (18%), status post-cardiothoracic surgery (13%), status post-thoracic surgery (12%), and COPD (12%). The median length of ReSCU stay was 17 days (interquartile range, 10 to 29 days). Eighteen percent (n = 38) died during the hospitalization. Among the 174 survivors, complete ventilator independence was achieved in 127 patients (60% of the 212 patient cohort), 28 patients were ventilator dependent (13% of 212 patients), and the remaining 19 patients (9%) required partial ventilatory support. Univariate analysis regarding the association of baseline characteristics with death identified lower albumin and transferrin levels, increasing age, and the physician's estimate of lower weaning likelihood as significant correlates of death. In contrast, achieving complete ventilator independence was associated with a higher serum albumin level, a nonmedical ICU referral source, a cause of respiratory failure other than COPD, and a physician's estimate of higher weaning likelihood. To analyze the financial impact of the ReSCU, we assumed that ReSCU patients would have otherwise stayed in the medical ICU and compared the charges (ICU vs ReSCU) with, for a subset of patients, the true costs of ReSCU vs. ICU care. Analyses of both charges and cost differences showed similar savings associated with ReSCU care ($13,339 per patient [charges] and $10,694 per patient [costs]).
Conclusions: We conclude the following: (1) the rate of achieving complete ventilator independence in the ReSCU was high; and (2) based on our achieving clinical outcomes, which are comparable to the most favorable rates reported in other series from ventilator units, we conclude that the ReSCU can be an effective and cost-saving alternative to the ICU for carefully selected patients.