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Alpena Medical Center pioneers rural surgery program

Courtesy Photo MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena leadership accepts a plaque from the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Advisory Council for Rural Surgery for being the first rural hospital to participate in a pilot site visit as part of the Rural Surgery Verification Program. Pictured from left to right are Chuck Sherwin, president; Deb Pokorzynski, R.N., B.A., vice president, nursing; Thomas Thornton, M.D., general surgery; Mark Puls, M.D., Surgical Quality and Safety Committee lead; Denise Wekwert, R.N., nurse manager, operating room, and Tanya Rouse, B.SN., R.N., E.M.T.-P., program manager, trauma.

ALPENA — MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena has received recognition from the American College of Surgeons (ACS) for being the first hospital to participate in the Rural Surgery Verification and Quality Improvement Program. The goal of the Rural Surgery Verification Program is to assist rural surgeons and rural hospitals in providing consistent, high-quality surgical care by developing standards that take into account some of the specific resource challenges rural hospitals face.

The Medical Center is not new to working with ACS in this capacity. Previously it participated in the Trauma Verification Program and Commission on Cancer Program, realizing innumerable benefits for those who deliver and receive trauma and cancer care locally. Due in part to those successes, leadership was eager to get involved again, this time for a program focused on surgical care.

The initial site visit for the Rural Surgery Verification Program was conducted in Alpena in September of 2019. One month later, the Medical Center received a detailed report which outlined strengths and opportunities for improvement based on a list of 38 program standards. Because the program’s format is not “pass or fail,” participation is ongoing with future site visits planned that can provide additional framework for evaluating care and a structure to maintain data-based improvements.

“The ACS gives us a great platform to work from, comes on site to support our efforts and provides the opportunity to learn from others,” said Chuck Sherwin, president, MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena. “Another benefit is the confidence it will give to residents in our region. When you come to our hospital for surgery, you can be assured high-quality care will be delivered and that the necessary support structures are in place to help us ensure that exceptional care.”

The program is designed to be surgeon-led. Participating hospitals are asked to develop a Surgical Quality and Safety Committee comprised of representatives from all members of the hospital team who care for the surgical patient from the time of their first evaluation to the time of their discharge: surgeons, representatives from anesthesia, physicians caring for ICU patients, emergency medicine, nursing, hospitalists and hospital administration. Together, they address any and all issues regarding surgical patients including case review, peer review, credentialing and privileging, monitoring data to identify consistent surgical issues, managing external collaborations in quality and safety, and establishing quality and safety standards.

Mark W. Puls, M.D, F.A.C.S., is eager to chair and cultivate the committee.

“As the surgeon who will be leading our Surgical Quality and Safety Committee, I look forward to the team approach to problem solving that will develop,” Puls said.

Rural hospitals in Indiana and Kansas are in the process of coordinating pilot site visits. ACS continues to recruit and train reviewers in order to build the program. In the meantime, the Medical Center in Alpena will work diligently on surgeon recruitment and retention, process improvements and utilizing a multidisciplinary team to review all aspects of surgical care in the best interests of the surgical patients of northeast Michigan.

For more information, visit www.midmichigan.org/alpena.

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