WICHITA – Wesley Woodlawn Hospital & ER, a campus of Wesley Medical Center, recently underwent its one-year survey for NICHE certification and excelled to Level III “senior-friendly” status. NICHE was instituted at Wesley Woodlawn in June 2014 as the hospital committed itself to evaluating its practices and knowledge base for its largest and most vulnerable patient population: senior citizens.
“Our nursing goals have been blown out of the water,” said Laura Stofferson, Wesley Woodlawn’s associate chief nursing officer, who organized the NICHE program. NICHE stands for Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders. “I couldn’t be more proud of the work our team has done.”
At Wesley Woodlawn – formerly known as Galichia Heart Hospital – a cadre of nurses, unit clerks and other staff have dedicated themselves to a better understanding of what older patients go through when they are hospitalized. These employees have undergone sensitivity training through a workshop held regularly at Wesley Woodlawn that rather literally puts employees in the shoes of an elderly patient.
“When an older patient comes into a hospital – especially if he or she comes in acutely as an unplanned admission – everything changes, making the experience much more difficult and anxiety-producing,” said Meg Gaston, RN, geriatric nurse navigator and Wesley Woodlawn’s NICHE coordinator. “Sensitivity training boils down to putting yourself in the patients’ shoes and then remembering that. Take it with you. Know what to look for.”
This committed approach to empathetic and compassionate care has propelled the hospital’s year-old NICHE program into its senior-friendly level at least a year ahead of a typical hospital’s progression, putting Wesley Woodlawn’s program just one category away from “Exemplar” – the highest rating in the NICHE pantheon of achievements.
That was partly due to the commitment by Wesley Woodlawn employees over and beyond the program’s original goals. For 2015-16, the hospital’s NICHE goals were to have four RNs certified as geriatric resource nurses and two unit assistants certified as geriatric patient care associates. To date, however, Wesley Woodlawn boasts 18 nurses and 11 unit assistants achieving those certifications.
Sensitivity training makes sense for Wesley Woodlawn where, on average, about 75 percent of the hospital’s patients are 65 years or older. Many of these patients require special care with everything from nutrition to discharge instructions.
“Our senior population has special needs when they are hospitalized,” Gaston said. “Medications affect them differently, they have different mobility challenges, and there’s a lot we can do from a clinical standpoint to improve outcomes and satisfaction for our elder patients and their families.”
That’s where the sensitivity training comes in. At a training session, employees are greeted with a baggie full of odds and ends, including cotton balls, caps to needles, popcorn kernels and rubber bands. For the duration of the workshop, they are to participate with cotton balls in their ears, their shoelaces tied together and popcorn kernels in their shoes, among other things.
“We try to mimic what a lot of our elderly patients go through,” Gaston said. “How frustrating it is for patients suffering from anything from sensory loss to vision or hearing impairments to do the daily tasks we expect them to do and do correctly. They come in, and we think they’re non-compliant. More often than not, they have extraneous challenges we take for granted.”
Training participants are also asked to sit on the caps and lids, wear thick glasses and gloves and try to sort pills, and then, in a grand finale of sorts, be spoon-fed pureed food by the person sitting across from them.
“Ultimately, these trainings help us recognize strategies, skills and changes in our environment of care that improve the service we provide to our senior population,” said Wesley Woodlawn CEO Steve Edgar. “With this special focus on seniors – coupled with our growing number of services and technologies – we continue to be the expert choice for a wide variety of patient needs.”
The hospital will continue to engage in an annual program evaluation process to continue its “senior-friendly” certification. For more information about Wesley Woodlawn and its services, please visit www.wesleymc.com.
Wesley Healthcare is the region’s leading acute care hospital network providing a full range of diagnostic and treatment services for patients throughout Kansas and northern Oklahoma since 1912. As a leader in Overall Recommended Care in national surveys, Wesley Medical Center treats more than 24,000 patients annually and delivers more than 6,000 babies – more than any hospital in a 13-state region. Wesley provides the most extensive emergency network in Wichita, with Wesley ER, Wesley West ER, Wesley Woodlawn ER, the region’s only pediatric ER and soon, Wesley Derby ER. Wesley owns and operates Wesley Woodlawn Hospital & ER, multiple WesleyCare clinics and is currently building the region’s only dedicated children’s hospital – Wesley Children’s Hospital. To learn more about Wesley Healthcare, please visit www.wesleymc.com.
NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) is an international program designed to help hospitals improve the care of older adults. The vision of NICHE is for all patients 65 and over to be given sensitive and exemplary care. The mission of NICHE is to provide principles and tools to stimulate a change in the culture of healthcare facilities to achieve patient-centered care for older adults. NICHE, based at the NYU College of Nursing and comprised of a network of hospitals and healthcare facilities in 46 states, Canada and Bermuda, engages hospitals and their affiliates in achieving and sustaining the NICHE designation. For more information, visit www.nicheprogram.org.