Wesley set to open neuro critical care unit

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

02/24/2012 9:54 AM

Wesley Medical Center plans to open its seven-bed Neuro/Stroke Critical Care Unit by early March, the second neurological critical care unit in the state. Via Christi’s 20-bed unit at its St. Francis campus has helped critical-care patients for 10 years.

James Walker of Via Christi Hospitals and Calvin G. Olmstead of HCA Wesley Medical Center said it makes sense for both hospitals to have a separate neurological critical care unit.

“I’ve always thought we needed one here. We’re in an age of specialization,” said Olmstead, who is director of the Wesley’s stroke unit. Olmstead has been on staff at Wesley since 1989, but before then he worked at hospitals in Texas and Canada where they had neuro critical care units. “It gets all of the patients with similar diseases in one location.”

A neuro critical care unit places all patients experiencing strokes, first-time seizures and acute brain injuries in one unit. All support personnel, equipment and physicians go to one location to treat patients in this highly specific area. Like other critical care units, once the patient is released from the intensive, round-the-clock watch they are sent to other units in the hospital.

Via Christi’s NeuroCritical Care Unit is usually 80 percent full. Wesley expects similar occupancy for its new unit. Wesley also has plans to expand the unit when it becomes necessary.

Olmstead said there is room for another neuro critical care unit in town.

“We have the need for one, and we have the patients for one,” he said.

Demand is high. Wesley representatives said it is better to have multiple units in one city because some patients have insurance coverage for a specific doctor who operates at only one hospital, or an ambulance must drive a patient to the closest hospital due to a life-threatening illness, or a patient may prefer one hospital over another.

Along with treating patients with meningitis or encephalitis, this highly specialized intensive care unit at Via Christi serves patients with conditions of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscles, including stroke, multiple seizures and infections. Neurological surgery may be performed before or after admittance.

Wesley, like Via Christi, will use state-of-the-art equipment in its new critical care unit. Because Wesley has been serving neuro critical care patients in other areas of the hospital, it already has the equipment; it just has to move it.

By putting all neuro critical care patients into one unit, the hospitals are able to specifically train nurses — as well as physical, occupational and speech therapists — in the field of critical care neurology.

“They become wizards at this,” said Olmstead, who also is a neurologist. “There is a lower complication rate, and a better recovery rate. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Because treating this type of patient is so specific, both doctors in charge of their respective units agreed that having a designated location is beneficial for the patient, their family, the treating physicians and the professional support staff.

“There’s not a large number of people that understand how to treat neurologically critically ill patients,” said Walker, the medical director of Via Christi’s stroke center. “The treatment of the distressed brain is very different than the treatment of other organ systems in the body.”

Walker, who had worked at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Neurocritical Care Unit before coming to Wichita, said that having a neuro critical care unit raises the level of education for everybody associated with the hospital.

Carolyn Earnest, the stroke coordinator at Wesley, said that 80 percent of strokes are caused by some cardiac or vascular problem. By opening this unit, she said, the hospital wants to put more research toward neuro and stroke patients. Wesley’s unit will start slowly, concentrating on stroke-related illnesses, but by summer, the hospital will add a staff neurointensivist, a physician trained in emergency neurological care. Then it will place all neurological trauma patients into the unit.

“We want to insure that these kind of complex patients have complex care,” said Diana Lippoldt, the director of emergency and trauma services at Wesley. “It becomes the way of the future.”

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