By Laura Freeman
For years, the cardiologists of Ascension St. Vincent’s East have dreamed of a central unit where all their patients admitted for cardiovascular conditions could receive specialized care in one dedicated space. Now they are seeing that reality take shape with the new cardiology unit in place, equipped and recruiting staff to begin welcoming its first patients this month.
“Having heart patients in a central location is going to be a game changer in helping us deliver the best possible patient experience and even better care,” cardiologist Jason Thompson, MD, PhD, of Birmingham Heart Clinic said. “Instead of having to walk all over the hospital, we will be able to spend more time with each patient. We can check on patients more often and do rounds with the entire care team so we can exchange information and respond to changes there and then.”
While the heart surgery unit continues to care for patients undergoing major cardiovascular surgery, those admitted primarily for a diagnosis like heart failure, a rhythm disturbance, a cardiac event and those needing follow up after stent placement, a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or similar heart procedure will be cared for in the new unit on the 7th floor of the North Tower.
Nursing Manager Nicole Arnold, RN, sees the dedicated unit as a win for both patients and the care team. “It’s a great opportunity to add to the depth of our skills and professional knowledge,” she said. “While nurses work to be proficient in all our duties, performing specialized care every day will allow us to become particularly adept with new skills. We also gain a greater understanding of heart disease processes and interventions as we work with top professionals. Frequent in-service training on key topics in cardiovascular care will allow us to continue growing professionally.
“Patients benefit from caregivers with a greater depth of expertise. So do we. Continuing to learn and expand our skills keeps our work interesting and challenging. The new unit is beautiful and well-designed and equipped. It’s going to be a great place to work. Our nurses are so excited.”
The 23-bed unit will have both telemetry beds and several intermediate beds offering a level of care between standard and CICU. The unit is fully equipped with the latest cardiovascular technology.
“Cardiology is an imaging-intensive field,” Thomas said. “If a scan comes in while we are on rounds, we can just step over to the reader to view the latest update and make decisions in real time. In addition to saving time, having a central unit for heart patients also means we will be working with a team that has a skills set geared to caring for people with those conditions.”
In a dedicated centralized unit with shared knowledge, communication becomes seamless and the care team can better support each other as they learn to anticipate what is likely to come next. When heart patients are spread out on different units, the skills of the support team may be geared to orthopedics, oncology or something else completely different.
“Providing quality care for patients with a condition like heart failure can be much more effective when someone can check on them,” Thompson said. “Either I can round again to see how a patient is doing, or one of the unit’s cardiology nurse practitioners who is always on duty can check back and notice when medication needs to be increased. The order can be changed immediately instead of waiting for notes and change orders to get to the right people.”
Having grown up in Trussville, Thompson feels very close to the people in the area who are served by Ascension St. Vincent’s East.
“When I care for teachers from high school or friends of my parents, it feels good to help. The new cardiology unit is going to make such a difference in caring for the people who live here,” he said.
Ascension St. Vincent’s East is now recruiting nurses, nurse practitioners, hospitalists and a full range of support staff for the new cardiology unit. Anyone interested in applying for one of these positions can go to Ascention.org/careers.