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Plans for health simulation center are moving forward

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, at 2:01 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, at 9:53 a.m.

A $14 million Wichita facility that will allow health professionals to train together in one place — simulating real situations — is making steady progress.

A boost has come from an anonymous donor in western Kansas who gave $500,000, said Paul Uhlig, who is helping lead the effort to build the Mid-Continent Regional Center for Health Care Simulation.

The center will be a nonprofit, self-sustaining program that will cover its own operational expenses, said Uhlig, a heart and lung surgeon who is medical director of the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Wesley Medical Center and an associate professor at Kansas University School of Medicine-Wichita.

Among the progress: Several sites are being considered. Garry Tolle, who had headed operations for Sedgwick County EMS, has been hired as the center’s operations director. A fundraising drive is being prepared.

“We are beginning operations already,” using borrowed spaces and equipment to begin simulation activities, Uhlig said.

“We’re finding a lot of enthusiasm for this across the community and across the state.”

The center’s supporters include area universities and colleges and health-system officials. “It’s a great teaching tool, and it’s a wonderful way to get the health professionals working together as a team,” said H. David Wilson, dean of medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

The center will replicate a hospital, with trauma bays, emergency room, operating room, birth care center, pharmacy, and other areas. Students will be training and veterans will be learning new skills with a range of conditions including sophisticated, high-tech mannequins, completely “virtual” environments and actors.

The teams work on more than technical skills. They learn how to engage with and involve patients and families who are feeling a range of emotions.

Traditionally, each health care discipline has trained separately. Most importantly, Uhlig said, the center will allow team members to train together under one roof, which is key because they have to work effectively together in real emergencies.

In a typical simulation exercise, a team could be responding to a patient having a heart attack, with alarms sounding on monitors. The facility will be designed so that it can be updated.

Team training by simulation is “taking the learning curve as far away from the patient as possible,” Uhlig said. He describes it as “not training until you get it right” but “training until you can’t get it wrong.”

In simulation, if you make a mistake, “nobody’s hurt, nobody’s dead,” he said.

Ultimately, it improves patient care and should make care more efficient and lower the cost, he said.

As far as certified, stand-alone health care simulation centers, Uhlig said, there is a “big hole in the middle part of the country.”

Supporters see the center as establishing Wichita as a key site for the rapidly emerging area of health care simulation. Wilson, the KU medicine dean, said, “We could be pulling in people from surrounding states and even all over the country.”

The center also could bolster the idea of making simulation equipment in Wichita, supporters say.

The center is “an easy sell when people understand how important it is,” Wilson said.

The program makes sense because Wichita already is a health care hub, Uhlig said. Health care is the second-largest employer.

The project has been in the preparation stages for about three years, with supporters having regular meetings. They have visited about 10 health-care simulation centers around the nation.

“We want to do it exactly right,” Uhlig said.

Although private funding is key to raising about $14 million needed to build the center, the supporters hope that the city, county and state will pitch in, he said.

“We know that times are tight, and we’re very respectful of all the demands.”

Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tim Norton, who is on the center’s steering committee, said he will be an advocate for the county supporting the center financially “at some level.”

Investment in the center will pay off, Norton said. “Public health will benefit because the whole system will be better because of the training that will take place in Wichita,” he said, adding, “one thing you’re doing with the simulation center is sharing knowledge, increasing knowledge.”

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