Health secretary visits, commends Sentara

Published 10:57 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dr. Carolyn Fruci, right, explains how she can monitor and care for intensive care unit patients at other hospitals and promote better patient safety using the electronic intensive care unit to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during Sebelius’ visit to Sentara Norfolk General Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited Hampton Roads to commend Sentara Health Systems for its commitment to patient safety and its involvement with the federal Partnership for Patients.

Sebelius, along with U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, visited Sentara Norfolk General Hospital Tuesday to see some of Sentara’s safety processes firsthand.

“It’s great to have a chance to be here,” Sebelius said. “I’m really pleased Sentara has stepped up. You have been doing some pretty spectacular work over 10 years.”

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Many of the safety habits practiced at Norfolk General are enacted at all the system’s hospitals, including Sentara Obici Hospital.

Sentara is one of 3,000 organizations participating in the Partnership for Patients, which was initiated in April to promote the quality, safety and affordability of health care for all Americans.

The program aims to keep patients from getting sicker or injured while staying at a medical facility and to help patients heal without complications.

Through the program, preventable hospital-acquired conditions will decrease by 40 percent compared to 2010 by the end of 2013, saving 60,000 lives, according to Health and Human Services.

During the secretary’s tour, administrators showed her the hospital’s electronic intensive care unit, which is the control room for five Sentara hospitals in the area.

The eICU, which was opened 11 years ago, offers critical care nurses and doctors at Norfolk General to monitor ICU patients at other hospitals to offer added care and anticipate problems.

Dr. Gene Burke, vice president and executive medical director of clinical effectiveness for Sentara, told Sebelius the eICU has been a critical factor in patient safety because it provides extra caregivers for patients.

The eICU follows patients at Norfolk General, Sentara Leigh, Sentara Bayside, Sentara CarePlex and Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center.

Sentara Obici Hospital is not part of the eICU program. Dr. Steve Julian Jr., Obici vice president of medical affairs, said the hospital has considered adding an eICU but is fortunate that one of its ICU doctors is able to be at the hospital at all times.

“We have a unique commitment from the ICU doctors that makes (the eICU) less necessary here,” he said.

During her visit to Norfolk General, Sebelius also participated in a roundtable discussion about patient safety with several doctors, nurses, a heart transplant recipient and Scott, whom the secretary called an advocate for affordable health care.

Kathy Price-Ward, a critical care nurse at Norfolk General, discussed Sentara’s safety habits that the system teaches all employees to ensure patient safety, such as clear communication and special attention to detail.

Julian said for the past 16 months, Obici has placed a special focus on patient safety.

The hospital has several programs for its employees, including a physician online module that instructs doctors on specific safety practices and educational programs that shed light on issues and problems.

Julian said the hospital’s nurses also have changed how they do shift changes to include the patients in the process.

“They actually talk about the patient in front of the patient,” he said. “The patients and families love it because it’s about me, not without me.”

Julian added that in order to ensure safe care, patients should stay informed about their care teams and be unafraid of asking questions.

For more information on the Partnership for Patients, visit