ICU begins year-long journey to the Beacon Award

By Kristy Bleizeffer Dec 1, 2017

Stephanie Smith, R.N., stands with ICU nurses and staff at Wyoming Medical Center. Stephanie and others are leading the unit in its pursuit of the prestigious Beacon Award.

The Beacon Award for Excellence is an honor bestowed by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses to hospital units that provide the highest standards in patient care, staff satisfaction and commitment to constant improvement. Beacon Units are certified to use evidence-based practices to improve patient outcomes. 

Wyoming Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit recently embarked on a year-long journey to apply for the award. Right now, there are no other Beacon Units in the state of Wyoming.

“The award has three different levels: bronze, silver or gold.  Any of them distinguishes you as a unit that gives exceptional patient care, which is what Wyoming Medical Center is all about,” said Stephanie Smith, R.N., the ICU nurse who first asked to pursue the award with her unit.

In this interview, Stephanie explains the award and what it will mean for patient and family care.

What metrics does the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses consider for the Beacon Award?

You are recognized for excellence in critical care and it distinguishes the unit in improving every facet of quality patient care.  One reason I was so interested in getting this award in the first place is because we are already doing so much of what this award is all about. 

Beacon Units are measured in categories such as evidence-based care and processes, communication, leadership structure, staff engagement, knowledge and learning opportunities, and many different patient outcome metrics. For example, for ventilator-associated pneumonia, our rates are way below the national average. Hospital-acquired infections within the ICU at WMC are very low compared to the national average. 

We’ve also identified a few metrics that we could improve upon, so it gives us tools to gage our progress and it gives us tools to say,  “Okay, are we giving the care that fits best practice? Can we improve some of our processes to do what’s best for the patient? 

How long do you expect this journey to take?

We are looking at about one year before we can apply for it.  It is a 45-page application. We have to show documented outcomes of all sorts of different criteria, and these will be outcomes that we are gaging from the past, today and down the road as well.

What is the process like, after you complete the application and documentation?

We will turn our application into the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).  They will look over what type of unit we are.  For example, we are not a progressive care unit or a neuro unit; We are not a trauma unit.  We are a mixed intensive care unit, so they will look at our data to see if we qualify for the Beacon Award.

How did you get involved in this process?

I am a member of the AACN, and as I was looking over some of their information, I saw the Beacon Award and it sparked my interest. I thought, “I wonder if our unit has ever gone for this?” I asked my boss, Jenea Goddard (ICU director of nursing services), and she said that many, many years ago they started but the key players quit the unit before it was complete.

I then asked the clinical educator of the ICU, Jamie Kiracofe, to look over the Beacon Award criteria and tell me if she thought it was something that was within reach. She said, “I do. I think we can do this!” So we began looking at the details: What is it going to take for us to get this award?  What is it going to take for us to be distinguished among critical care providers of critical care patients and make sure that our patients are receiving the absolute best care. So we dove in and began the process.  

What are some metrics that you will monitor and document over the next year?

We are going to be looking at infection rate numbers for all sorts of different types of infections.  We are looking at our best practices, like everything that we do as Wyoming Medical Center. We pride ourselves on being a best-practice hospital, but where do these best practices come from? If they were best practices five years ago, are they still considered best practices today? 

We are also looking at work environments for nurses.  People who work in Beacon Award units, they don’t want to work anywhere else. So why is that?  What is different for the nurses as well as for the patients?  Why are Beacon Units such excellent units on which to work? They have lower turnover, high morale.  They are really distinguished and respected among their colleagues. They are influential in the rest of the hospital.  So, we are looking at the tools that they use for those types of things.  Recruitment and retention in the ICU is a key factor in this journey, so we are going to have to show that we don’t have as high of turnover as maybe other departments.   

Another huge component, one that I am very passionate about, is getting more Critical Care Nurse Certifications (CCRN) in Beacon units. That means more nurses who have been certified in critical care.  In units that have critical care nurses, for every 5 percent of nurses that are critical-care certified, mortality decreases by 6 percent. And it is very, very valuable in terms of practicing in the ICU setting. So, getting more CCRNs on our unit is going to be one of our goals as well.

Are you a CCRN?

I am.

And how many others do you think there are?

Right now out of about 30 nurses on the ICU, I believe there are four of us.

I just want to see that number climb to absolutely as many as we can.  Trauma surgeon, Dr. Darren Bowe, has already offered to hold a review class at his house for the ICU and help get education out there for our nurses, so we are already working on those things as well.

What does it take to become a CCRN?

A whole lot of studying. It is a test, and it is a very difficult test.  It actually tests over every single body system down critical care pathways.

So how is the process progressing as a unit?

We have a Beacon Committee.  We have about eight people, all volunteers. We meet and talk about strategies for pushing the project forward, work through the application, and look at how we fit into certain questions and ask whether we are doing what we need to do to meet certain criteria.

What kind of response have you gotten from the rest of the unit?

Response so far has mostly been positive.  We have gotten a lot of support from administration, the CEO, the Chief Nursing Officer, managers, everybody is very supportive that way.  My fellow nurses, the ones that I have talked to, are mostly positive about it as well.

What happens if you fall short after submitting your application?

If we should fall short on the first application, the great thing about it is they give you feedback, and then we will know exactly what we can do for the next time.  Is it something small that is easily fixed? Was it nurse turnover, and do we need to look at nurse satisfaction on the unit? Is it something little like that or did we really not make big benchmarks?  That is what I think I also liked about the Beacons, is they give you that feedback.

Honestly, the Beacon Award is about performing to excellence and then being awarded for your excellence. I do not know who wouldn’t want to be excellent in the patient care we do.  I mean who wouldn’t want to be told they are doing an excellent job? And at the end of the day, I think that is what it is all about: Excellence for the patients and excellence for the nurses.

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