They Get All the Breaks

August 01, 2014

Teamwork and camaraderie characterize the orthopedic nurses.

WRITTEN BY ZOE SOPHOS, PHOTOGRAPHED BY LAUREN PRESSEY

Orthopedics unit
The Orthopedics unit
Patients may arrive on the orthopedic floor with knees or hips or shoulders that need to heal. But for the ortho nurses, the goal is always to treat the whole patient.

The focus of this bustling unit is on healing each person from head to toe while functioning as a highly coordinated team. Halting pain and treating wounds through teamwork and attention to detail, these nurses exemplify the patientoriented approach to care that the Health Center embodies.

“We’re a community hospital that really focuses on personalized care,” says Deborah Nimick, RN, director of the orthopedic nursing unit for the past eight years and an orthopedic nurse for more than 20 years. “We treat total hip, total knee, back and spine surgeries in a very complementary way – addressing the mind, body and spirit.”

The orthopedic nursing unit is responsible for the well-being of patients from the time they enter the hospital to discharge. The nurses make sure patients are comfortable post-surgery, administer pain medications and coordinate with the physical therapy team. Their duties include continually assessing patients’ needs and responding accordingly.

“I have a really nice group of highly trained and experienced nurses here,” Nimick says. “They are a great team, they work well together, and they are very compassionate.”

Getting a staff of about 90 registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and administrative assistants to perform well together under serious time pressure is no easy feat. Each nurse is assigned five patients during his or her 12-hour shift. The unit is responsible for approximately 30 to 40 patients at any given time. There is no down time, but these nurses always rise to the occasion.

“The orthopedic unit is a wonderful place,” says one former patient. “I felt very well taken care of.” Other individuals told Press Ganey, the nation’s leading provider of patient-satisfaction surveys, that the nurses were “extremely attentive” and “very uplifting,” providing “good care every minute of the day.” Two nurses in the orthopedic nursing unit recently received the Newman Family Donor Merit Award, an award sponsored by former patients to recognize Health Center caregivers.

The ortho nurses value close communication with their patients, striving to develop a rapport with each person, Nimick says. "By understanding the pain concept, the recovery phase and physical therapy, nurses are able to gain patients’ trust quickly and serve them more appropriately at the same time," she says.

The orthopedic nursing unit’s commitment to patient-centered care is also reflected in a “pre-op class” offered to all patients scheduled for orthopedic surgery. The class is taught by an orthopedic nurse who provides patients with step-by-step explanations of what will happen during the hospital stay. “The beauty of this orthopedic class is that the patients are well prepared for surgery and recovery, and the doctors feel comfortable knowing that their patients have gone through the class,” Nimick says. “There’s a much better outcome when you know what to expect.”

Another reason for the unit’s great outcomes (Providence Saint John's Health Center has been named one of Healthgrades™ America's 100 Best Hospitals for Joint Replacement™ for three straight years) is its relatively small size, which fosters a sense of community among the staff, appreciation for each other and low turnover rates. Nurses, surgeons and physical therapists in the Health Center’s orthopedic nursing unit work together for years and get to know each other very well.

Matthew Allen, director of inpatient physical therapy at the Health Center, says that cooperation is one of the keys to the orthopedic nursing unit’s success. “People are prepared to do things that are traditionally not within their roles,” he says. “There's a team spirit, and it’s all centered around the patient.”