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James McDonald, R.N., center, works the controls of a patient-lifting system in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. (photo by Anne Rayner)

SICU lauded for excellence in critical care

BY: LESLIE HAST

1/15/2010 - After more than two years of work and a grueling application process, Vanderbilt University Hospital's Surgical Intensive Care Unit has received the acclaimed Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence.

“This is acknowledgement of the hard work that has gone into creating a healthy work environment that provides excellent patient care,” said Devin Carr, administrative director.

Given by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the Beacon Award is meant to challenge acute and critical care units to improve standards of care. Units must meet rigid standards in recruitment and retention, training, evidence-based practice and research, patient outcomes, healing environment, leadership and organizational ethics.

“The Beacon Award recognizes the efforts people put in on a day-to-day basis,” said Ashley Staniewski, M.S.N., R.N., interim manager of patient care services. “You don't come in and decide to be Beacon. It takes a lot of hard work, paying attention to detail and not accepting the status quo.”

There are about 6,000 intensive care units in the United States and only 188 have received the Beacon Award. Vanderbilt's SICU is the first adult unit in Tennessee to be recognized.

“I am very proud and excited about this important award,” said Pam Jones, M.S.N., R.N., chief nursing officer of VUH.

“The SICU leadership and staff have worked very hard to ensure excellent, evidenced-based practice nursing is delivered in a consistent manner to patients and families. It is quite an honor to be the first adult unit in the state to achieve this recognition.”

“I am extremely proud of the unit and what they have accomplished,” said Larry Goldberg, chief executive officer of VUH. “I recognize how dedicated and committed the staff and leadership in the SICU are to providing outstanding patient care, but it is particularly gratifying when they receive such recognition from creditable sources outside the organizations.”

The application process began in spring 2007 when several interested staff members gathered to look at the 42 questions and assess how the SICU measured up.

Staff were then assigned specific questions to answer, a final document was compiled and reviewed, and the application was submitted in August 2008.

“Basically we had to tell them our story and pull in everything we knew about the unit,” said Mike Daly, M.S.N., R.N., assistant administrator of the Trauma and Surgery Patient Care Center.

“We don't meet all of the standards, but we were able to show how we were analyzing our work and trying to meet or exceed the standards. We know we're not perfect, but we never stop striving for perfection.”

After a five-month review process, the application came back requesting more information on many items. The staff pulled together once again to resubmit.

“I was much more confident on the resubmission,” Daly said. “When the award was announced, I first felt relieved because we had worked for so long and were finally finished.”

Medical Director Addison May, M.D., said the key to the SICU's success is teamwork.

“We could not have achieved this award without support from numerous groups at all levels of the hospital: nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, etc.,” May said.

“All these groups have to function as a team in a single complex location. This is recognition for what the team has felt we've done well for a long time.”

The Beacon Award is given for one year, and there are plans to apply again in the future.

“Now we have a sense of ownership and obligation to maintain these high standards. The reapplication will help keep us focused on quality improvement and where to put our efforts,” said Richard Benoit, R.N., nurse educator.

Key application writers included: Benoit; Daly; Staniewski; Billy Cameron, M.S.N., R.N.; Barbara Gray, R.N.; Lindsey Robertson, R.N.; Donna Sabash, R.N.; and Regina Wisecarver, R.N.

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