Nurse Tammy Sullivan saved by special team

Nurse Tammy Sullivan
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The last thing nurse Tammy Sullivan remembers waslying in her hospital bed,staringblanklyatthecall bell in her room at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.

A nurse for 29 years, Sullivan is very familiar with a call bell.Her mindsimplycould not figure out how to use it.

At that moment, Sullivan’sheart rate was spiking. Her temperature washigh. Her white blood cell count was hightoo. She wasexperiencing severe sepsis, a life-threatening infection in her body,losing her ability to think clearly. He was alsoabout tolose consciousness.

Fortunately,WellSpan’sCentral Alert Teamwasvirtuallymonitoring her conditionon that February night in 2019.

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Theteam,a group ofnurses withcritical careand emergency departmentexperience, areon duty24/7 from a remote “bunker,” to support the work of bedside teams in hospitals.

They monitora patient’s electronic health recordfordangerous changes in vital signsandlabteststhatmaysignal an onset of sepsis.

The teamquicklynotifies a patient’s bedsidecaregivers, so they candetermine if the patient may be septic or clinically unstable. Those caregivers then consideradministering life-savingdrugs, fluids and other interventions.

Read: WellSpan Health top PA health system

How innovative program works

WellSpan’sinnovative Sepsis Central Alert Team program has received national recognition, including the prestigious2019 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award fromThe Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum.

The award recognizes the innovation in safety and quality exhibited by the team, which brings together the expertise of experienced nurses and real-time data from a patient’s electronic health record.

The program has saved about 350 peoplediagnosed withsepsis since its inception.

Count Sullivan among them.

Just before she passed out, Sullivan remembers a nurse running into her room and yelling her name. When she woke up, a team of clinicians wasswarming her bed, taking care of her.

“If I wasn’t being monitored, no one would have found me,”Sullivansaid. She remembers telling hernurse that she was tired and going to sleep shortly before she passed out,askingher to close her door.

“I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to me,” she said.

What happened that night

Angela Mays isa nursewith 20 years of experience.

Mayswasthe Central Alert Team nurseon duty the night that Sullivan’s vital signstriggeredan alert.

Sullivan was very sick, Mays said. The infection in her abdominal cavity could have been lethal.

The Central Alert Team monitors patients who are at highest risk for sepsis, based on analgorithmdeveloped by WellSpan expert clinicians. The teamtypicallyresponds toalerts on 50 to 80 patients every day in the WellSpan system, at five hospitals across southcentral Pennsylvania.Duringcold and flu season, the team canreceivemore than 100patientalerts a day.

The team’s work is particularly important during the Coronavirus pandemic because patients have had to be placed in isolation.

“The Central Alert Team is here to support thebedside clinicians.These nursesare an extra, critical set of eyes on a patient,monitoringtheir test results, vital signs and other signals,” said Jodi Cichetti, senior director of quality andaccreditation at WellSpan Health. “Timing is critically important in sepsis identification and intervention, and this monitoring model has provided positive and rewarding results.”

There is an art to the sciencein the Central Alert Team,whichmarries thenurses’experience withreal-timedata.

“We look at the big picture and the trends and the notes that are being written by the bedside team,” Mays said. “(We are) looking for those small nuances that gives us the gut feeling: this one is sick, something is not right here and I’m going to intervene on their behalf. It’s our job to be that safety net.”

Expressing gratitude for life

Tammy Sullivan is very grateful fortheir work.

Sullivan, case management manager atWellSpanGood Samaritan Hospital, started feelingillon her 48th birthday. At first,she thought her belly hurt because she had eaten too much birthday cake, which is her favorite dessert.

Her 49th birthday was a special one, she said, marked by a family dinner and a beautiful snowfall.She and her 13-year-old daughter, Julie,baked her favorite chocolate cakefor dessert. Sullivanhad a big piece.

“It was definitely on my mind that I almost did not see another birthday,” she said. “How grateful I am to all of those people who saved my life. It’s a surreal feeling.”

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