News from the Tennessee Valley Business
SUNDAY, JULY 22, 2007

Decatur General gets rapid-response award

By Paul Huggins ∑ 340-2395

Decatur General Hospital is seeing less blue.

Well, to be precise, itís hearing less blue, as in Code Blue, the alert call for when patients stop breathing and need resuscitating.

The hospital developed a new rapid response program that warns staffers before a patient stops breathing. Since fully implemented in April 2006, the hospital has seen a 39 percent reduction in Code Blue calls, 44 percent in the intensive care unit.

The initiative saves lives and saves the hospital money, said Phyllis West, vice president of nursing.

The success of the rapid response program earned the hospital a 2007 VHA Leadership Award for Critical Excellence.

Specialty team

To reduce Code Blues, the hospital formed a Critical Assist Team consisting of experienced nurses and respiratory therapists who can get to patients in less than five minutes.

In addition, the hospital has trained and encouraged all staff members, from food servers to orderlies, to notify the team whenever they see a negative change in a patientís condition. In the near future, the hospital plans to include family members.

West said a major part of the effort is simply ensuring no one feels hesitant about calling the team.

ďYou donít have to be the patientís physician, you just need to care about the patient,Ē she said.

Specifically, the hospital teaches staffers to pay attention to patientsí breathing.

Once a patient stops breathing it is very difficult to get him started again, said Anita Walden, director of intensive care and critical care, and patients who do recover often suffer brain damage.

Stan Drinkard, manager of cardiopulmonary services, said team responses can range from setting a patient up in bed to improve air passage to the lungs to giving the patient oxygen or medicine to relax.

The last resort is tracheal incubation: placement of a flexible tube into the trachea to provide a means of mechanical ventilation.

The rapid response effort has not only reduced the number of Code Blues, but also the number of incubations, Drinkard said.

Walden said thatís significant because ventilators increase the patientsí discomfort and prevent them from talking, thus limiting their ability to interact with their doctors.

In addition, ventilators make the body more susceptible to germs, which routinely can lead to pneumonia, she said.

West said in eight of the 14 months the rapid response system has operated, the hospital had zero cases of pneumonia acquired in the hospital. Each case avoided saves the hospital about $40,000, she said.

Decatur General was one of six not-for-profit hospitals in the state and 312 nationwide VHA recognized for exceeding national performance standards.

Based in Irving, Texas, VHA Inc. is an alliance of more than 2,400 not-for-profit health-care organizations.

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