For many people on the Island, summer begins like a head cold, around Memorial Day each year, with a sniffle or a sore throat. Then comes the headache.

It’s the pollen; this is the allergy season.

Over at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, too, the Memorial Day sniffles are a traditional indicator of the headache to come. The number of people presenting at the hospital emergency room jumps dramatically, a harbinger of the crazy-busy summer.

The usual symptoms of impending summer were again present this past Memorial Day weekend. The number of people who came through the ER jumped 100 per cent, from about 30 per day to around 60, mostly related to allergies, said hospital president and chief executive officer Tim Walsh yesterday.

But this year, the treatment is different. This year, the hospital is trying a new way to ease the summer headache by streamlining its ER triage process to get patients more quickly attended to.

“This summer we are going to a physician-assistant model that we think is going to help us with the flow,” Mr. Walsh explained.

A physician assistant, he said, is “very similar to a nurse practitioner [in that] they have advanced training.

“The difference is they can order tests and do diagnostic work, under the supervision of a physician. A nurse can’t order a test. So we are going to use a PA as a triage person.

“So if someone presents with, for example, a twisted ankle, a PA can order the X-ray right away, instead of doing a triage and sending them back to the waiting area, and then having them see the doctor, and having the doctor say they need an X-ray, then having to wait for the X-ray. We are trying to front-end the process.

“The tests can get ordered, then when you do get into the treatment room, the results of all that stuff are in the works.

“We are hoping that will accelerate things this year,” Mr. Walsh said.

He conceded the previous system had resulted in long delays in the emergency room, especially last year when the emergency room opened in the hospital’s new building.

“Last year, when we opened the new building, we did not do well, and I think anyone on the Island knows that. We moved in [to the new hospital building] on June 22. That day we got crushed, and it never let up,” Mr. Walsh said, adding:

“We took our lumps and we’re trying to make the flow work right in the ER.”

Already there was one physician’s assistant working full-time, Monday to Friday. Over the summer there will be two more, meaning there will be two on duty, working with a physician, for 10 hours a day.

But managing health care for a place with huge seasonal population fluctuations and a shortage of medical staff remains a constant challenge. Mr. Walsh said the hospital now is in the process of bringing on extra staff from off-Island — these seasonal workers are known in the health care world as travelers.

“We have our own staff on backup, doing some extra shifts,” Mr. Walsh said. “The game plan for us is to staff up weekends through the first couple of weeks of June and then bring in the full supplemental staffing for the summer.”

That translates to 15 or 16 extra nursing staff, he said.

”We try to get the same people every year, who know what to expect and where things are, how things work here [but ] sometimes we do have to go to [labor supply] companies to get some extra nursing.

“It’s an expensive way of doing business, but it’s what we have to do to meet the demand.”

In the summer months, the hospital pulls doctors from all over the country.

“The last week of June is when it gets heavy. As soon as school gets out,” Mr. Walsh said.

That will be the real test. But so far, he said the new system appears to be coping well with what he called “pretty standard stuff.”

“Knock on wood,” he said.