Start-Up: Center for Nursing Excellence

An adult male patient lies in a hospital bed with a troubling, persistent cough. A nurse instructs a trainee to administer an oxygen mask in hopes of lessening the gent’s respiratory distress. On the monitor next to the bed, vital signs look bleak …

But this is not a hospital room.The trainee is a high school student considering nursing as a career, and the "patient" is actually Sim Man 3-G, a high-fidelity simulation mannequin being used for training purposes at the new Center for Nursing Excellence (CNE) in Madison.

CNE is a nonprofit, high-tech education and training facility operating as a shared resource for health care providers and educational institutions in the region. It opened last September, thanks to a collaborative effort involving Madison’s Meriter Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, and Edgewood College.

Although UW and MATC also have training centers, the cooperative nature of the CNE makes this project unique, according to Joan Beglinger, vice president of patient care services at St. Mary’s Hospital. "When it comes to issues that really relate to the quality of patient care and access — the reasons we all exist — and the community’s expectations, we (the three partners) share key learning.

"In that context, we function as people in the same professions versus people in competing businesses."

Designed as a mock hospital ward complete with a nurses station, the CNE allows for intensive training in a non-life-threatening — though very real — medical environment. A conference room, 24-seat classroom, and offices round out the Center’s 5,000 square feet of space. The mannequins are incredibly sophisticated simulation machines; they have a pulse, can "breathe," "bleed," blink, and respond to stimuli. They can even die.

Playing God in these situations is CNE Lab Manager Laurie Pirtle, who works from a "control center" behind a two-way mirror, where she is able to assume a mannequin’s voice and control its response to treatment. She might also role-play as a hysterical family member or an attending physician. It’s all a part of training students and experienced medical personnel how best to treat, react, and test team communications in specific, often highly-charged, highly emotional, health-related situations.

"I think one of the most amazing things is how quickly that mannequin becomes a real patient for everyone that enters the room," said Pirtle.

By December, more than 1,000 medical personnel will have utilized the CNE for advanced training that is a far cry from book-learning, said Margaret Noreuil, dean and associate professor at Edgewood’s School of Nursing. "Before this, students would be in the obstetrics unit for eight weeks and might see two births. Here, they can go through the birth of a child over and over. The mannequins react like humans."

CNE was a $1.4 million initiative established with a unique combination of public and private support, including a $587,000 Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant, plus equal and significant private donations from the Henry J. Predolin Foundation, the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation, Mortenson Investment Group, and the Meriter Foundation. Fran Petonic, president of Meriter Foundation, said the CNE’s start-up budget was $800,000, and annual operating costs are expected to be $350,000. Training will be provided free of charge to associates of the three partnering organizations, each of which also agreed to annual in-kind donations of up to $50,000. Outlying hospitals, however, would pay a training fee.

Brad Hutter, president/CEO at MIG, led the MIG contribution and provided the leased building space. "We’re hoping this will be the beginning of something that can be replicated throughout the state and the nation. The idea of lowering costs through collaboration, raising care, and extending points of access to nursing students … are just some reasons why this model makes so much sense," he explained.

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