FAIRBANKS — Ironically, it took an injury to one of its nurses for the intensive care unit at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital to be recognized as one of the top ICUs in the country.
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses recently conferred a silver-level Beacon Award for Excellence on the ICU at FMH, the first ICU in Alaska to be earn the prestigious award. Only 98 other ICUs in the U.S. were recognized with a Beacon Award in 2012.
If it hadn’t been for an injury that relegated ICU nurse Cindy Yocum to light duty, it might not have ever happened.
It was Yocum who, while recovering from a leg injury that relegated her to desk duty for a month in February of last year, took on the task of organizing and writing material that had been collected for the award application.
“My boss (ICU director Brenda Franz) said, ‘Why don’t you do this while you’re off?’” Yocum said, holding up the completed application. “We had a lot of the base work done through committee work, but we had all these pieces and parts that had to be put together.”
It was then Yocum realized how monumental of a task she had taken on. Even working on it every day for a month, Yocum wasn’t able to finish the application. So Franz told her to take one day per week when she returned to regular duty to work on the application.
Even then, and with the help of nurse managers Dawn Brefczynski and Erika Grant, it took another three months to complete writing the application, which requires an ICU to detail and explain all of its procedures and processes for caring for patients, collaborating with physicians, dealing with families of patients, enhancing professional development, communicating as a staff, fostering a healthy work environment and recognizing good work. All totaled, it took Yocum and the rest of the ICU staff eight months to compile the application.
The unit submitted its application on Sept. 1 of last year and didn’t hear it had won the award until earlier this month.
“We’re very proud of this,” Yocum said of the Beacon Award. “We worked a long time on it and put a lot of money into it. It’s been years in the making.”
The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes a unit’s caregivers who successfully improve patient outcomes and align practices with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ six standards for a healthy work environment. The six standards are skilled communication, true collaboration, effective decision making, appropriate staffing, meaningful recognition and authentic leadership.
For the team of 30 nurses that staffs the intensive care unit at FMH, the award was validation for the work they have been doing for years.
“It’s a big deal,” Franz, the ICU director at FMH, said of the award. “It’s recognition of the level of care we pride ourselves on in the ICU and the investment of our staff into our patients.
The award “is just one more way to assure our community that they can get excellent care right here at home,” Franz said.
There are three levels of the Beacon award — gold, silver and bronze. The silver level “signifies continuous learning and effective systems to achieve optimal patient care,” a press release issued by the AACN announcing the award said.
The ICU at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital earned its award by demonstrating leadership structures and systems; appropriate staffing and staff engagement; effective communication, knowledge management, learning and development and best practices; evidence-based practice and processes; and patient outcomes, according to the release.
The award is good for three years, at which time the unit will have to submit another application to maintain its status as a Beacon unit.
The ICU at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has 13 beds and strives for a maximum nurse-to-patient ratio of one nurse to three patients.
Nancy Spencer is the longest tenured nurse in FMH’s intensive care unit, having worked there since 1980.
“I like the people I work with; I like the collaboration we have with the physicians, and I like the support we get from the administration,” Spencer said. “We have a great crew here.”
Bevin Stephens, 35, who has worked in the intensive care unit at FMH for the last six years, considers it an honor.
“To be involved in someone’s life in these very critical, pivotal and potentially life or death moments, how powerful is that?” Stephens said. “People ask me all the time, ‘How can you do that?’ and my answer is how can you not do it?”