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St. Anthony Hospital

A day in the life in St. Anthony’s OR department

Level 1 Trauma Center a constant hub of activity


There’s a red line on the second floor of St. Anthony Hospital that most people don’t cross.

Behind this line on the trauma center and operating rooms floor, doctors, surgeons, nurses, technicians, specialists and other St. Anthony staff work 24 hours a day to provide cutting edge surgeries and life-saving care.

“We have 12 operating rooms here, some dedicated to specific surgeries, and others that can be used for several different procedures,” said Lyndsey Green, assistant nurse manager for the OR, and registered nurse clinical coordinator for trauma and general surgery. “We typically see anywhere from 25 to 30 cases a day, and can do anything from pediatric to neurosurgery.”

• • •

For the uninitiated, navigating the labyrinthine hallways and rooms, lingo and terminology, and hieroglyphic-like scheduling white board can be more than a little daunting. But if one thing is apparent, to even the most unaware layperson, it’s that these relationships transcend work colleagues.

It’s a family on every level.

Everyone says hello to each other in the hall, catching up and seeing if any help is needed. Perhaps there’s a quick clarification about the days schedule, or when someone can leave for the day.

“I’m the charge nurse, but that’s a term I really don’t like,” Green said. “I prefer team leader, because I’m just here to help. Nobody here is afraid to ask for help or assistance, because we’re all here to do the best for our patients. The patient is what matters.”

Most patient’s visit to the floor begins in pre-op, where they are prepared for the day’s surgery. They might interact with Ross Varga, the department’s pharmacist if there is any question about medicine or any last-minute safety catches.

These safety catches are the quintessential example of how the familial atmosphere on the floor is a boon for patients — everyone is on the lookout for problems or issues that might have been overlooked, but could become a problem later.

Those safety catches are so important that every morning, representatives from almost all the hospital’s departments, gather for a “safety huddle.” It’s a chance to celebrate staff members that have gone above and beyond, as well as to go over areas where mistakes were made, or there is room for improvement.

“It gets all of us in the mood to start the day, and helps us put on our safety goggles for the day,” explained Laura Rogers, associate chief nursing officer at St. Anthony. “Every day we impact people’s lives, and every day we fulfill what is most needed by our patients.”

• • •

Damien Berg, manager of Sterile Processing for the hospital, has a simple motto for his department — make sure staff has what the equipment they need when they need it, that it works, and that its clean and sterile.

“Sometimes people ask why clean and sterile is last, especially with the department we’re in, but it doesn’t matter if the equipment is clean or not if it’s not there when it is needed, and if it doesn’t work, who cares if it’s clean,” he said. “All three aspects of the motto align to provide the best, safest equipment to those who need it.”

The Sterile Processing room, which is located on the OR floor, processes about 13,000 pieces of equipment a month, and is the first step in a journey that leads to the operating room. Equipment is meticulously cleaned, sterilized, and prepared to national standards — a process that takes about three hours from start to finish.

From there, supply chain specialists like Beverly Vigil and Roger Villasana help prepare carts full of supplies and materials needed for the day’s procedures, so doctors and nurses have everything ready, and in one place.

“We’re a very busy facility, and there’s a lot of turn over and it’s a challenge to keep up with everything,” Villasana said. “But it really helps that we all work so well together. That makes it better for everyone.”

That same emphasis on teamwork is crucial once the surgery actually begins, no matter what the operation is. On any given day, the OR will see hernia, cardiac, and spinal surgery — sometimes all happening at the same time, in different rooms.

“So many of our doctors, nurses and the rest of the staff are cross-trained, so they can go from one kind of operation to another if necessary,” Green said. “One of the things that makes our OR special is how quickly we can change to deal with situations as they come in.”

Medical technology is constantly evolving, and St. Anthony is working to keep up. The hospital has invested in robotic surgery procedures, and trains students and staff in house, to the highest of standards.

“We can have heart surgeries that go as long as 10 to 12 hours,” said Jen Blanset, a registered nurse in the Cardiovascular OR. “The team almost always stays throughout the entire procedure. It’s a constant process of improvement.”

• • •

Above the entrance to every OR room in St. Anthony is a crucifix, but perhaps no room in the hospital is as in need of divine oversight as the trauma room, T-10.

The hospital is designated as a Level I Trauma Center by the State of Colorado Department of Health. A Level I designation is the highest level of definitive and comprehensive emergency and trauma care for patients with complex injuries, and it sees some of those in the direst straits. This includes patients from the mountains and nearby states flown in by Flight for Life Colorado.

“Colorado is a very active state, so we see injuries from activities like skiing, mountain climbing, rafting, and more,” Green said. “We use an interdisciplinary approach in T-10. When we get a page, representatives from all departments respond, and then the doctors can keep who they need as the situation develops.”

• • •

At least half of the OR nursing staff at St. Anthony Hospital is CNOR certified — specifically trained in working with patients, before, during and after surgery. That level of staff certification has earned the hospital the CNOR Strong designation from the Competency and Credentialing Institute.

“I can’t tell you how much admiration I have for everyone on this staff. Because sometimes, especially in emergencies, we only have 10 to 15 minutes to get to know the patient before we have to operate,” Green said. “This staff went into this profession because they love caring for people, and that comes with a lot of work to make it the best experience possible.”

But most people, families, friends and even patients, don’t see all this work...

Because there’s a red line on the second floor of St. Anthony Hospital that most people don’t cross.


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