An Inside Look at a Beacon Award-Winning ICU

... Setting the Standard for Patient Safety ...4A/5A Team

If you visit the 4A/5A Cardiovascular-Thoracic Critical Care Unit at Emory University Hospital as an outsider looking in - taking a tour, if you will - you will leave a different person. Something unique will happen to your perspective on life as you circle the two floors of this unit. You'll leave feeling:

  • Thankful there exists in this world a critical care team so full of compassion and commitment to quality, evidence-based care that you and yours would be in the best hands should you need their help
  • Astounded by the number of heart and lung transplant patients recovering here daily - proof of remarkable moments of innovation and advancement that never become commonplace to these health care providers
  • Enlightened by the steadfast rhythm of confident caregivers working toward quality care

It comes as no surprise that the 4A/5A ICU is the first cardiovascular unit in Georgia to receive Beacon Designation as an outstanding critical care unit by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. Beacon Award units, which represent the nation's top critical care units, set the standard for excellent critical care and help benchmark health care systems, outcomes and environments - all increasingly linked to patient safety initiatives. And if one thing is apparent on this unit, patient safety is always top of mind.

Patient Safety and Infection Control4A/5A Team

"Preventing infection in a critical care environment is imperative," explains Emmanuel Alimi, a 4A/5A ICU nurse (far right in the single-line photo). "Therefore, we observe strict infection control measures, especially to prevent any cross contamination among our patients. These measures; such as hand washing and wearing protective gear, like gowns, masks and gloves; are of paramount importance."

Phyllis Lowery, also a 4A/5A ICU nurse (second from the left in the front row of the double-line photo), continues, "Prevention is the key. Our Infection Control Committee works to implement policies that assist in our commitment to quality. Everything we do is based on evidence-based research. To ensure everyone is following the same procedures, we use bundles, sets of standard procedures to prevent different complications, such as pneumonia. The repetitive nature of practicing this way is what creates quality - everyone doing the same thing every time based on proven research.

"Furthermore, throughout Emory Healthcare, we emphasize patient- and family-centered care. Family members aren't visitors; they are partners in the continuum of care. For example, on our unit, we've expanded our ‘visiting' hours and include the family in beside reporting and rounds. By incorporating the family, we are adding another mechanism for accuracy and safety."

As much as the members on this unit follow proven evidence, they also work to pave the way for future clinical practices. For example, the nurses on this unit, as well as on 5G ICU/6G ICU, recently conducted a study to reduce the incidence of blood-stream and resistant organism infections by using chlorhexidine gluconate wipes in place of traditional bathing procedures. Within just three months of implementing the study, bloodstream infection rates were reduced from 3.6 per 1,000 patient days to one per 1,000 patient days. The study was so successful that the units were honored with the Josh Nahum Special Achievement Award for Infection Prevention and Control at the PHA (Partnership for Health and Accountability) 2008 Quality & Patient Safety Awards.

Team Pride

Although clinical practice on 4A/5A ICU is driven by measurable outcomes, there is something that can't quite be measured here, but is overwhelmingly apparent, and that is team pride. You see that pride on the faces of the team members who have called this unit their career home for decades. You see it written in the stories within the unit's newsletter. And you hear it in the words of team leaders.

As Therese Baker, unit director (far right in the double-line photo), says, "I feel fortunate to work here. These individuals are highly motivated and compassionate. They are advocates for their patients."

"This team has always been composed of providers who want to excel and reach the next level," continues Mary Zellinger, clinical nurse specialist for the team. "They motivate each other to maintain a higher level of knowledge and greater competencies. They are role models."

With awards to their credit and an unbreakable interdisciplinary team, 4A/5A ICU will continue to set the standard of care. They are tied to each other and to their patients with an uncanny drive to advance their clinical practice, support each other and serve as models within the health care industry.

Just a few of the stellar team members in Emory Healthcare's 4A/5A Cardiovascular-Thoracic Critical Care Unit at Emory University Hospital.