Taking Teamwork to Heart

When a loved one is facing major heart surgery, it's good to know that your health care professionals are all in sync. The heart valve team at Good Samaritan Hospital has been honing a sense of team — and family — for decades.

That teamwork and the outstanding results it produces have earned Good Samaritan Hospital's heart valve repair and replacement program a rare distinction: It's the first in Ohio and one of only three centers in the U.S. to receive disease-specific certification from The Joint Commission health care accrediting body for cardiac valve repair and replacement.

The certification would not have happened without the bonds of a close-knit group focused on a common purpose.

"The feeling on our unit is affectionate and respectful. It's understood that we give everything we have for the team — and ultimately for our patients," says Jane Whalen, DNPc, MSN, RN, advanced practice nurse for the Good Samaritan Hospital heart valve team. "We communicate often and hold each other accountable."

A new day begins as night shift meets day shift for a 15-minute huddle. A dozen nurses on Good Samaritan Hospital's Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) gather at 7 a.m. to discuss patients' progress or setbacks during the night. The team celebrates good news and discusses how to better achieve perfect patient care. Nurses make a plan and stay in touch throughout the day.

Many of the patients on the 20-bed unit have had surgery or a catheter procedure to fix a faulty heart valve. The hospital's heart surgeons and interventional cardiologists are renowned for their ability to repair or replace poorly working valves to get the heart pumping more efficiently.

Cardiothoracic surgeon J. Michael Smith, MD, is quick to tell his patients, "This is not just about how good we are as surgeons but how good the team is. The procedure is part of it, but this is about the total care you get from start to finish."

Whalen leaves the huddle to visit with 70-year-old Mr. Jones, who had robotic heart valve surgery yesterday. Whalen and the bedside nurse discuss his blood pressure and kidney functions, which seem to be dropping. Whalen quickly places a call to Dr. Smith and he comes immediately, before his first surgery of the day.

With orders in place to improve Mr. Jones' recovery, Whalen checks in with another patient scheduled for morning valve replacement surgery, whose wife and two young children are at his bedside.  To lighten the mood, a staff nurse inflates a couple of surgical gloves to make "balloons" for the kids. Meantime, Whalen's 20+ years of working with heart patients helps her anticipate and answer many questions before the couple even asks.

Like Family

Heart valve patients stay in the same room throughout their hospital stay, allowing them and the staff to forge bonds. Family members are welcome 24/7. The openness, caring and calm confidence of the care team help relieve some of the family's fears. Several team members have worked together for more than two decades.

"We not only treat each other like family, but we treat patients like they are our family. That's our culture," says CVICU Nurse Manager Pam Smith, MSN, RN, CNML.

The staff is serious when they need to be, but "we have fun," Smith says. "In a high- stress environment, you have to be able to smile and laugh about something and not burn out. Patients know we like each other and we enjoy what we're doing. It makes them feel like they're in the right place."

There's also a spirit of inquiry on the team. The doctors are constantly teaching and the team is always collaborating. It's not uncommon for a group of nurses to be huddled around a computer screen with a doctor drawing pictures and explaining an unusual case, while the nurses share their ideas.

Always Reaching Higher

The Joint Commission, arguably the nation's premier health care quality improvement and accrediting body, recognizes excellent patient care, quality improvement and measurable results.

"Good Samaritan Hospital has thoroughly demonstrated a high level of care for patients in need of cardiac valve repair and replacement," says Patrick Phelan, executive director, Hospital Business Development, The Joint Commission. "We commend Good Samaritan for becoming a leader in cardiac care, potentially providing a higher standard of service for cardiac valve repair and replacement patients in the state and in its community."

Accolades such as the two-year certification could make the Good Samaritan valve team complacent, but they're constantly striving toward more perfect care. They meet routinely with Linda Juengling, MSN, RN, NE-BC, director of nursing for Critical Care, to work through glitches in their processes and acquire the resources they need.

As Whalen explains, "No one person on the team believes he or she has all the answers. We consult each other: ‘Here's what I'm thinking. What am I missing?'

The team effort is worth the results. "The best part of my job is sending someone home who I know is going to do well," Whalen comments. "It's a good feeling to be part of making people whole again and living life the way they want."

Tags Heart