CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new policy at Charleston Area Medical Center allows specially trained nurses to reopen heart patients' chests to correct emergency problems when a surgeon is not immediately available.Registered nurse first assistants will be able to remove sutures in heart patients and fix problems such as stopping bleeding or relieving pressure in patients who are first waking up from surgery, according to a resolution the hospital board passed in its regular meeting Wednesday.Dr. James Lohan, CAMC's chief of staff, said giving these nurses new latitude is a way to help save lives in the event of an emergency. The hospital's heart surgeons and anesthesiologists support the policy change, Lohan added. "It's a very rare occurrence but should it occur, we want to have the opportunity to intervene instead of having to wait on someone else to do it."
Registered nurse first assistants, or RNFAs, have special training in addition to the regular nurse training they receive, Lohan said."[They've] been assisting the cardiac surgeons -- many of them for 20, 30 years -- so it's not just a run-of-the-mill person," Lohan said.In other business, hospital officials are applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.The award, named for a former U.S. secretary of commerce, is presented to businesses, education, health care and nonprofit organizations based on performance in leadership, planning and other areas.The hospital system will be the first business in the state to apply for such an award, said Dr. Glenn Crotty, CAMC's executive vice president.Officials with the Baldrige award will visit CAMC in March to determine if it meets standards for a state-level award. If CAMC receives the state-level award, hospital officials will enroll in a three-year program to prepare for a national Baldrige award. Still, enrolling in the program does not necessarily mean CAMC would win the national award, Crotty said.Crotty also serves as an examiner for the Baldrige award, but he will not be involved in examining CAMC.In other business, the hospital board also approved a resolution allowing officials to borrow up to $60 million in new funds to pay for the construction of its future cancer center, in addition to a 40-bed expansion at CAMC Memorial, a four-suite addition to the Ambulatory Surgery Center at CAMC General and energy upgrades at the East End hospital.The board also approved the refinancing of $55 million in debt from 2009. Refinancing will allow the hospital to take advantage of lower interest rates, said Larry Hudson, the hospital's chief financial officer.Reach Lori Kersey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1240.