Hands-on healthcare training

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

In a ward-like room at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, a patient is complaining to a nurse.

“I don’t feel so good,” he says.

Then he vomits. Or maybe he has a heart attack. Or his heart rate is soaring. Or his blood pressure.

Whatever the problem, it’s up to the nurse to save him and she has to respond quickly. And if the nurse makes a mistake and he dies, she has to try to save him again.

That’s because this patient is Mr. SIM, a computerized simulation mannequin, one of several in beds in the room, part of the Health Career Training Center that opened last spring at the hospital. The mannequins are part of the center’s training equipment for a broad range of medical specialties ranging from instrument sterilization to surgical procedures.

The HCTC, the result of a unique partnership between Samaritan Health Services and Linn-Benton Community, offers cutting-edge training for people seeking to enter or already in the medical field.

“There’s no other collaboration between colleges and hospitals like this in the state of Oregon,” said Danette Roberts, the center’s director. “This model we have here is really setting the stage for what’s possible.”

The 12,630-square-foot instructional facility includes six classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art resources such as digital projectors, wireless Internet access and on-site technical support. The center can accommodate high school and college classes and provides conference space for community and employee gatherings.

Housed in a brand new $2.6 million facility that overlooks the hospital’s new healing garden, the completed HCTC opened last May.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer Becky Pape said the idea for the training center grew out of the need for workers to staff medical facilities in the Samaritan system — particularly a “severe shortage” of radiation technicians.

“We decided to work with LBCC because we can do it better together,” she said of the collaboration between the two organizations. She said that the center has become a site for training nurses in Samaritan’s childbirth centers, critical care training and operating room staff.

In addition to training new health-care workers, the center is designed to improve health care training for the 4,300 Samaritan Health employees who work in the Willamette Valley, along with other medical personnel in outlying rural areas such as Sweet Home or Brownsville. One stated goal for the center is to “establish a rural response center to train first-responders and emergency officials from local agencies and hospitals in Oregon and, eventually, the Northwest.”

The hospital, she said, has also partnered with Oregon State University to provide leadership training for its managerial staff.

“We expect to run 700 to 800 students a year,” she said, noting that the facility has hosted some 300 events in its first six months — far beyond projections.

Bob Adams, chair of the LCH Foundation, said the hospital has “just scratched the surface” in regard to the potential impact the training center can have on the community.

“I really think the greatest thing we can do is help the work force by providing education in a good field,” he said. “East Linn County has quite a large unemployment. We can give students a chance to get good jobs, good paying jobs, and good benefits with those jobs.”

The center was completed in two phases. The first, which opened in 2003, included a radiology teaching laboratory — the third in the state of Oregon — and on-site programs for nurses, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, certified nursing assistants and sterile processing technicians. The second phase includes a simulation laboratory, where students can practice their medical skills on mannequins that can be programmed to simulate many of the medical crises and conditions that medical personnel face.

The “Sim Lab,” as it’s called, “gives students an opportunity to work in real-life situations as they train for the real world,” Roberts said. “Sim Man (the most high-tech mannequin) is programmable, measurable and repeatable. Students can repeat and practice skills they’re learning.”

Sim Man’s computer can withstand the shock of defibrillator paddles during simulated heart attacks, giving students a chance to respond realistically during heart-attack drills. Performances will also be videotaped, so students can review their response to a medical emergency.

Roberts sees the Sim Lab as a community resource for providers of medical services.

“We’re recruiting community partners,” she said. “It’s about community — how can we collaborate?”

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Chief Mike Beaver said his department has not used the new center yet, “but it’s in the works.”

“There’s been some talk (about the center) at monthly case reviews,” he said. “We’ve talked about it. I’m sure we’ll be using it down the road.”

The center also includes a conference facility that hospital officials hope will become a community meeting place.

The facility was used recently for a gathering of the state’s community college presidents, invited there by Linn-Benton Community College President Rita Cavin because she wanted them to see “what could be done,” Pape said.

The conference facility can seat 100 with tables and 200 in theater-style seating. It also can provide catered meals – complete with a choice of colors in table settings, cutting-edge video conferencing and audio-visual equipment, on-site audio-visual support, and tours of the hospital’s recently installed healing garden. An added perk is that it is directly across the hall from the full-service espresso bar run by hospital volunteers. Another is hallway space that provides a strategic location for vendors’ tables during conferences, Roberts said.

In recent weeks, the facility has hosted a conference on Parkinson’s disease, a video conference on leadership that included an appearance by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Shriner’s health screening for children and a meeting of the state fire marshals.

“One day we might have Congressman Peter DeFazio, or someone like that, visit. The next day, we’ll have a health screening,” Roberts said.

Currently, at least four LBCC classes a week are held in the center, she said. Both of the phases were funded with a combination of money raised by the hospital foundation, from the Samaritan corporation and from grants, said Adams, who, with Randy Springer, co-chaired the fund-raising campaign.

Adams said that all but $200,000 of the facility’s cost has been raised.

“We’re going to the community next,” he said of the fund-raising effort.

In an effort to reach out to local high school students interested in the medical field, HCTC held an open house on Jan. 6 to introduce teens to career opportunities.

Courtney Lake, who was among 15 Sweet Home High School health science students who attended the event with teacher David Younger, said she found the tour of the learning labs “interesting” — particularly her encounter with Mr. SIM.

“They can program him to talk and work with him,” she said. “You can see what it’s like in health careers, what you’re going to have to deal with if you’re going to be a nurse.”

Younger, who is teaching the health science course this year at Sweet Home, said the students’ tour of the hospital gave them something they otherwise don’t get much opportunity for — a chance to observe health professionals in action.

He said he hopes the HCTC will provide his students more chances to get up close with the medical field — something they need to do during the second trimester of his class.

“Because of recent confidentiality laws, Samaritan has closed off its local clinic and Wiley Creek (retirement community) to the health science class,” he said. “That really restricts my ability to find places for them to observe.”

The only local medical professionals who currently allow students to observe are chiropractor Dr. Dennis Lynch, veterinarian Dr. David Larsen, and the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District, he said. Younger said the lack of observation opportunities curtails students’ ability to learn about fields they might be interested in.

“I hope they have more days like this,” he said of the HCTC tour. “High school students need tools and information to try to make decisions on what they want to do in college.”