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Critical Care

When you or your loved ones are in a critical care situation, it can be a traumatic time. Rest assured we are here to provide high-quality treatment and compassionate care in a healing environment.

Critical care is intensive medical care for people who have life-threatening injuries and illnesses or those who are recovering from major surgeries. This includes skilled surgical care and nursing staff, lifesaving treatment and round-the-clock monitoring of patients, most often in an intensive care unit (ICU).

At UC San Diego Health, we want to help ease the stress you and your family undergo in critical care situations. We coordinate your treatment across different medical specialties and communicate with you, your family and other members of your medical team to provide the best possible care.

Your Critical Care Team

At an academic medical center like UC San Diego Health, your doctors are actively involved in research to improve ICU care. That’s why you and your family can count on us for world-class care and advanced treatments.

Our ICUs in Hillcrest and La Jolla are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for managing all kinds of medical emergencies. Our critical care physicians, also known as intensivists with special training in critical care, provide the full spectrum of specialized care for seriously ill or injured people.

Your team may include surgeons, anesthesiologists, pulmonologists, critical care nurses, radiologists, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and social workers. We also work closely with experts from many other specialties, such as cardiology, emergency and trauma medicine, infectious diseases, nephrology, neurosurgery, neurology, pediatrics and transplant medicine.

Types of Critical Care

We have dedicated intensive care units for certain types of patients. Our NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) care for newborns who are born early, have medical challenges, or are recovering from surgery. 

Our Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) provides for critically ill patients who require surgery or are recovering from surgery. The SICU is adjacent to the Level 1 Trauma Center at the UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest. 

After surgical intensive care, patients with traumatic injuries are moved to a surgical progressive care unit for continued recuperation. This allows a consistent team of specialists and nursing staff to manage care. It also eliminates the need to move trauma patients to other areas of the hospital.

Family-Centered Care

Critical care patients typically have complex medical needs and some of them may not be able to communicate. Families in the ICU aren't just visitors — they are an integral part of the care and the care team. That’s why we encourage families to be present, even during physician rounds and the resuscitation of a loved one.

We ensure a healing environment as well as clear, compassionate and timely communication. Our goal is to involve and support your family in the caring process to enhance your recovery.

To promote more family engagement in ICUs, we provide space for loved ones to sleep, have educational programs for family members on assisting with care, encourage loved ones to be part of the decision-making process, and keep "ICU diaries" with a narrative of a patient’s hospital stay and recovery to reduce their family’s anxiety and stress.

Post-ICU Care

Being discharged from the ICU is a huge milestone. But the recovery process is different for each individual, and it can last for months. It may involve many physical and emotional challenges, including muscular weakness, anxiety, stress and depression.

Our team evaluates your physical, emotional and cognitive needs to make sure you and your family receive the highest level of post-ICU care as you transition to daily life. Our services are designed to address health challenges, encourage healing, promote wellness and help you on your path to recovery.

Who Needs Critical Care?

Some patients may spend just hours in an ICU while others may be there for weeks or months. Critical care may be needed in conditions such as:

  • Acute surgical illness such as a burst appendix or strangulated hernia
  • Brain injuries and diseases
  • Broken bones
  • COVID-19
  • Heart attack / cardiac arrest
  • Heart failure
  • High-risk pregnancies
  • Lung / pulmonary diseases
  • Neurosurgery
  • Organ transplant, including kidney, lungs, liver or heart
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sepsis
  • Severe bleeding
  • Severe burns
  • Serious infections
  • Serious injuries, such as from car crashes, falls, and shootings
  • Shock
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Stroke
  • Surgical recovery