One of the things LincolnHealth registered nurse Mona Buffum likes best about her job is being able to spend a lot of time with patients. “We get to know them pretty well,” said Buffum. “The more time you spend with them, the more you are going to pick up on.”
One-on-one time with patients allows nurses like Buffum to listen to patients’ breathing for the tell-tale crackles that signal that pneumonia is developing. It helps them ensure patients are walking once or twice a day so they are less likely to develop blood clots. It also allows them to teach patients how to care for their surgical wounds once they go home, so they are less likely to develop the infections that could send them back to the hospital.
At LincolnHealth, a personal level of care is a tradition, and it is also one of the main reasons the small rural hospital is a perennial winner of quality awards, including most recently an award from health-care services company Vizient for reducing infections. Vizient used data reported to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to determine which hospitals were improving safety measures.
Because private and government insurers are increasingly tying reimbursement rates to quality scores, the awards mean LincolnHealth is more financially sustainable. More importantly, high-quality scores mean LincolnHealth patients who receive surgery or other care are less likely to become infected.
Elsa Parson, nurse manager of the LincolnHealth medical-surgical unit and the intensive care unit, said preventing infections is a combination of good habits, like washing hands, and good communication between clinical staff and patients as well as between nursing staff, doctors, therapists, and other providers. “I think the biggest thing is the commitment that everybody has, every single shift has, to making sure they do things as safely as possible,” said Parson.
For surgery patients, the commitment starts days before surgery, when educators teach patients how to swab the surgical site so there will be less bacteria on the skin to cause an infection.
After surgery, as nurses like Danielle Unruh clean the wound, they explain what they are doing and why, so when the patient goes home they can follow the same steps, reducing the likelihood of infection.
It’s also important that patients know the early warning signs of an infection so they can be active in their own care, said registered nurse Meredith Joyce. For example, itching or soreness around the site of a catheter can be an early indication of an infection. Joyce makes sure patients understand those symptoms. By rounding on patients once an hour, certified nursing assistants or nurses like Joyce develop relationships with patients that makes it easier for them to report symptoms as soon as they develop. “If it doesn’t feel good, I want to know as soon as possible,” said Joyce.
Parson said that maintenance and environmental-services staff also play a vital role, ensuring that everything that needs to get fixed is fixed and that each room is spotless when a new patient moves in.
“It takes everybody. One person missing it can lead to an infection,” said Parson.