Health & Fitness

FHN Leads the Way in Patient Safety

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FHN prides itself on providing quality care for all patients. Discover how cutting-edge technology and specialized staff create a healthy hospital environment.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff members work with University of Wisconsin staff members to provide 24/7 care to FHN’s ICU patients. The UW uses new technologies to conduct electronic patient monitoring.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff members work with University of Wisconsin staff members to provide 24/7 care to FHN’s ICU patients. The UW uses new technologies to conduct electronic patient monitoring.

Let’s face it. None of us wants to be admitted to a hospital, but we’re very grateful for good hospital care when we need it. And good hospital care is about more than treating the original problem.

“When we talk about basic patient safety, we’re talking about preventing harm,” says Dr. Michael Perry, CEO of FHN, in Freeport. “In a hospital, harm can come in multiple ways. People whose immune systems are already compromised due to their illnesses are spending time in a place that may expose them to meaner, nastier, more drug-resistant bugs than typically exist outside the hospital.”

That’s why patient safety is of the utmost importance to FHN, which, for the third year in a row, has been named to the Consumer Reports list of safest hospitals in Illinois.

“It’s not by chance that we’ve been very successful in patient safety,” says Perry. “It’s because of intentional strategies, policies, procedures, staff training and, quite frankly, the fact that our staff takes these things seriously.”

According to Consumer Reports, on any given day, about one in every 25 U.S. hospital patients develops an infection – most often pneumonia or surgical site infections.

“Two of the main types of infection the government is now tracking are central-line bloodstream infections [caused by objects like needles inserted into veins or arteries] and catheter infections,” says Perry. “Hospitals may be fined if they have too many of these in a given reporting period. At FHN, in the past two reporting periods, we had 1,634 opportunities for such infections and zero infections. We’ve been very successful in our efforts.”

Single-Patient Rooms

Fewer people sharing air space means less spread of disease.

“One thing that’s becoming more and more popular in the hospital community is to offer single-patient rooms,” says Perry. “We were the first in our region, four years ago, to make all rooms private for overnight admissions, which reduces the spread of illness. And we did it inside our existing space, without adding another tower to the hospital.”

Patients enjoy the privacy and it’s definitely a boon to marketing efforts, says Perry. “But the top reason we pursued this was to enhance patient safety.”

MOM Cleans with Light

FHN is also on the forefront of cleaning technology. In June 2013, it began using a brand-new invention from the Xenex company, a disinfection robot that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill germs. FHN staff promptly nicknamed the robot “MOM,” which stands for Microorganism Obliterating Machine.

“We already had a low rate of infection, but it’s dropped 46 percent since MOM,” says Perry.

The robot cost $85,000 and has proved so useful for disinfecting rooms throughout the hospital, that FHN has acquired a second one, with the help of Sodexo, the outsourcing company that handles FHN’s food service, maintenance, high tech and housekeeping services. “We haven’t yet named MOM 2.0,” says Perry.

FHN Infection Preventionist Margie Kochsmier explains, “We report our infection numbers at the end of each year to the National Healthcare Safety Network, a part of the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, we had four cases of post-surgical infection. In 2013, we had zero.”

UV disinfection is common in everything from laboratories to vacuum cleaners. The process uses high-energy ultraviolet light produced by xenon gas-powered bulbs to super-disinfect rooms. The UV-C energy passes through the cell walls of bacteria, viruses and bacterial spores. Once inside, it’s absorbed by the microorganism’s DNA, RNA and proteins, rendering it noninfectious and unable to replicate.

FHN environmental services (ES) technicians receive special training in UV disinfection before using MOM in patient rooms, areas of the FHN Leonard C. Ferguson Cancer Center and the hospital’s surgical suites. After completing the standard seven-step cleaning process, the ES technician brings the machine into the room, opens doors and drawers to expose the most surface area, and leaves the room.

The machine emits blasts of UV light that destroy bacteria and germs in the empty room. The light can’t pass through glass or other materials, so it’s harmless to people outside of the room; however, no one can be in the room while it’s being disinfected.

“When I talk to patients about MOM, they have a sense of security in knowing that we’ve taken steps to keep them safe, reducing infections that could cause them extra time in the hospital and additional treatment or medications,” says Kochsmier.

Infectious Disease Specialist

Still another way FHN demonstrates its commitment to containing the spread of disease is by employing an on-staff Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Robert Geller.

“It’s very unusual for a hospital our size to have this type of specialist,” says Perry. Geller also serves as vice president of medical affairs at FHN.

Geller earned his medical degree at Cornell University Medical College and is board-certified in both Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. His twofold focus is the health of the FHN patient population and the overall community population.

“I work with area health departments to identify and address infectious illnesses as quickly as possible because the best way to fight disease is to prevent it,” says Geller, who holds faculty appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.

Electronic ICU

FHN also has enhanced patient safety in its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) by working with the University of Wisconsin (UW) to implement an electronic monitoring system.

“This means that an experienced UW ICU nurse and a UW critical care intensivist doctor are electronically monitoring our ICU patients 24/7, along with our on-site ICU staff,” says Perry. “This has translated to a 24 percent less-than-expected death rate in the ICU over the past three to four years. That’s a very dramatic result. It’s huge.”

Priority No. 1: Patient Well-Being

While FHN opens its arms to all kinds of sick patients, it’s less welcoming to sick visitors. “We try to be very careful about who comes to visit,” says Perry. “If you aren’t feeling well, you shouldn’t be visiting patients in a hospital, and that goes for our own staff, too. It’s all part of making the patient environment as safe as possible.

“Our own staff members are required to either get a flu shot/flu nasal spray immunization each flu season, or, if they have a reason not to, are required to wear a mask at all times,” says Perry. “We also test staff for TB, annually, and are on the alert for things like pertussis, which occasionally makes a rebound because of unvaccinated people.”

During periods of high sickness in the community, FHN places additional restrictions on visitors, such as asking them to wear masks if they must visit but feel unwell. At times, FHN also prohibits visits from people under age 18 and issues reminders to the community about proper hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home if they feel ill.

Small is Beautiful

Perry is candid about the fact that FHN’s relatively small size makes it easier for the hospital to excel in national measurements such as patient safety.

“The bigger the hospital, the bigger the challenge of keeping bad bugs in check,” he says. “From that standpoint, I see it as an advantage to patients to be treated in a smaller-sized hospital like ours, where they’re less likely to be exposed to drug-resistant bacteria.”

While every hospital CEO is proud and protective of his or her domain, Perry has reason for extra-strong loyalty. “I was born in this hospital,” he says. “I chose to come back to Freeport, after my medical schooling, and to open my practice here in 1980.” He’s been part of FHN’s administration since 1999 and CEO for the past nine years. Seeing long-term strategies pay off by raising patient safety levels is enormously rewarding to him.

Perry doesn’t worry that FHN is smaller than some area hospitals. In fact, he cites it as a major strength.

“Everybody who comes here knows somebody who works here,” he says. “All of these relationships add up to more personalized care. And that’s very important.”

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