The next step in a Niagara Falls hospital’s plan to improve cardiac care is nearly complete, and it marks a major milestone for patients and staff.
Inside the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, construction has been going on for a number of months in a wing that – in its past life – was the hospital’s medical/surgical floor. Soon, it will be opened as the new Cardiac and Stroke Care Unit.
“We took it right down to the concrete floor and the bare studs, the bare walls, and built this from scratch,” said Pat Bradley, Memorial’s director of communications.
Under the supervision of Nurse Manager Janet Kundl, patients recovering from cardiovascular illness and events will get their care in this state-of-the-art unit.
“We’re going to focus our patient population totally – our care, everything on the stroke and cardiac patients,” Kundl said.
For Kundl, moving to the new unit is a continuation of the work she’s been doing for more than 20 years at Memorial, and it’s why she had a strong hand in its design.
One floor up in the current home of cardiac and stroke care, the treatment is no-doubt up to date, but both the appearance and the layout of the unit is far from it. And it’s not just cardiac and stroke cases that Kundl’s staff deals with.
“Right now, we’ll get a mixture of everything,” Kundl said. “You know, they’ll fill the beds with anything.”
The number of rooms Kundl oversees will drop to 23 from the current 30, which will help her staff focus on patient care. Several of the rooms will be for high-acuity patients, and every room will face outward so patients and staff get exposure to natural light. In the middle of it all, two nurse’s stations will serve as hubs of the floor’s activity, with brand new monitoring systems that Bradley is pretty enthusiastic about.
“When the electronics and all the medical equipment are installed in here, this area will look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise,” said Bradley.
Following the trend of putting medical providers closer to the bedside, every room will have its own computer, and staff will have handheld mobile devices to administer medication on the spot.
At the far end of the new sound-absorbent floors in the unit is one of its prized features – in-house physical therapy. Just as putting providers closer to the bedside follows a more modern trend, so does having therapy close by. Quickly getting patients back to regular activity after a cardiac event instead of letting it slow down the rest of their lives is the new norm.
“So when we have patients who have suffered a stroke, have undergone a heart attack, or have received a cardiac catheterization procedure, rather than them having to wait until they’re discharged from the hospital to begin doing the sort of things they need to do to get back on their feet and to resume full mobility, we’ll get them started right here while they’re a patient on the floor,” said Bradley.
And as Kundl explained, it’s not going to be just basic physical therapy.
“We have equipment that could test their balance. We have a bathroom set up, a whole full bathroom with a tub to teach people how to safely use the bathroom,” noted Kundl. "Because a lot of insurances don’t cover rehab anymore, we’re focusing on that, getting people into a safe program right from the get-go.”
Over the past fifteen years, Niagara Falls Memorial has made great strides in cardiovascular treatment. It began with opening the comprehensive cardiac care facility known as the Heart Center of Niagara, and integrating it with the hospital’s emergency department.
“We opened that 11 years ago, now, after we had seen the reports that showed the prevalence in incidents of cardiovascular disease in Niagara County was among the worst of any county in the United States of America,” said Bradley. “So we knew then that we had to step up our game.”
Years later came step two – building Niagara County’s first and only cardiac catheterization lab, which opened this past April. The new Cardiac Stroke Care Unit is step three. At the cost of $4-million, it completes the hospital’s full-circle model of heart care within the space of just two city blocks. That means convenience for patients, their family members knowing what’s happening from start to finish, and – for the hospital – the last new build or rebuild of every inpatient unit.
With major construction complete and a green from the State Department of Health, all that’s left is some cosmetic work a ribbon cutting in early January. Patients will start being treated in the new unit just days after.
In the meantime, just the prospect of the new space is a morale booster for Kundl and her staff. When they get stressed out, she takes them down to the new wing and reminds them of the improved space they’ll soon be working in.