Advocate South Suburban Hospital
Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest is an acute-care facility providing a wide range of comprehensive inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic and ambulatory medical services. Named by Modern Healthcare as one of the best places to work in health care, South Suburban is recognized for its excellence in patient safety and associate engagement.
Providing Care for an Aging Population
Every day, 10,000 Americans cross the age threshold of 65. According to Sue Harvey, BSN, RN, 53 percent of the patient population at Advocate South Suburban Hospital is 65 or older.
That demographic reality led Harvey to become the hospital’s NICHE coordinator, sensitizing the staff to the particular needs of elderly patients. NICHE stands for Nurses Improving Care of Healthsystem Elders, and its focus is to empower nurses with the extra knowledge they need to treat the older population.
She and her group of Geriatric Resource Nurses have much to be proud of: The NICHE organization has bestowed its highest rating, Exemplar, on South Suburban.
The resource nurses undergo 20 hours of training on the physical changes brought on by aging. The nurses also do a “tour of the brain,” as Harvey puts it, to understand how changes in the elderly can influence how they relate to their environment. Those nurses become the go-to experts for others throughout the hospital.
Harvey offered a simple example of how this might work in practice: If a nurse is spoon-feeding an elderly patient from the side, and that patient has poor peripheral vision, the patient might be startled and knock the spoon to the floor. The alternative is easy: “It’s best to stand directly right in front of them so they can see you,” Harvey said. Seeing through the eyes of the patient is the focus of the training.
“Unfortunately, the way we age, a couple bouts of disease or a traumatic accident changes our lives so dramatically,” she explained.
Her goal is for patients to get back to their physical baseline. “It doesn’t help if I help you heal from pneumonia so you can go to a nursing home, when before, you were swimming at the YMCA every day,” she said.
A crucial concept of the training is the understanding that the elderly are not a uniform group. “There’s a real difference between a 65, 75 and an 85-year-old,” she explained.
Dementia is a significant area of study in the program, and it’s a subject that had a profound effect on Harvey.
“My mom had Alzheimer’s disease, and I was working as a retail store manager,” Harvey said. “She ended up having an accident, and I had just moved to a new job and didn’t qualify for family leave, so I quit my job to take care of her. When it was time to go back to work, I decided, ‘I just can’t sell sweaters anymore.’”
Her background in science and enthusiasm for caring for aging adults led her to nursing school. She joined the nursing ranks at South Suburban 13 years ago after graduating, and has focused on caring for the aging population ever since.