For over 70 years, Ascension Sacred Heart Bay (ASHB) has been a pillar of the Panama City community and its environs. It was nearly destroyed when Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle in October 2018. Despite personal challenges, its heroic staff evacuated patients and provided emergency care throughout the storm and its aftermath.

Hurricane Michael devastated this award-winning facility. The only Level II Trauma Center between Pensacola and Tallahassee, it is a designated Primary Stroke Center of Excellence. Its cardiac catheterization laboratory received the American Heart Association’s Gold Award. And it has been recognized as a Best Hospital for Safety and Quality among hospitals with fewer than 150 beds.

With ASHB’s prestigious background and historic commitment to the community, the restoration process began quickly, as dedicated clinicians and caregivers continued to provide critical emergency services. The structure literally was rebuilt around them!

Ascension Sacred Heart was committed to bringing Bay back better than ever by adding new clinical services and enhancing existing ones. The rebuilding incorporated the technological infrastructure required to support the upgrades and additions that leadership envisioned.

As a result of this future-thinking planning, ASHB has embarked upon a project that will impact the quality of nursing care for generations: the creation of a Regional Clinical Education Center (RCEC) that will provide a comprehensive training experience for every nurse joining the Ascension Sacred Heart team. It will combine lectures, skills modeling and real-life simulations using computer-driven “manikins.”

In short, the next level of nursing care and clinical education will come to life in 2021 on Bay’s campus.

At 5,515 square feet, the RCEC will encompass half of the newly refurbished and upgraded Medical Office Building’s second floor. It will be an all-inclusive educational setting unlike any between Pensacola and Jacksonville. Its capabilities will allow all nurses to have identical experiences and preparation, whether they have been in the profession for 20 years or just received their degrees. It will be designed to teach and train, providing real-time, hands-on clinical and teamwork experiences.

Traditionally, new staff at any business or organization receive a one or two day “orientation”, then go to work. The RCEC will employ a holistic methodology of “onboarding”, taking into account the importance of each nurse and clinical staff member as a person. It will be at least a year-long process, including classroom and hands-on involvement guided by nurse educators, and featuring the latest instructional technologies. Mentoring will be a critical part of the process.

The RCEC’s program will promote shared, identical experiences and training through simulations, small group discussions, hands-on skills practice, and Electronic Health Record (EHR) documentation training. Simulations will range from falls to depression; from diabetes emergencies to heart failure and strokes, to end of life situations. EHRs, essential to patient care from beginning to end, will ensure seamless transitions if patients need to be transferred to another Ascension facility.

A centerpiece of the RCEC will be high-fidelity “manikins” – extraordinary pieces of equipment, programmable for dozens of real-life situations and emergencies. The manikins can simulate breathing and respond to physical interventions such as CPR or the application of a defibrillator. They can also react to the administration of drugs and medications.

Two skills rooms for hands-on training, a lecture hall, computer lab, offices, and break rooms for students and staff will complete the RCEC. The computer lab is designed so that it can be divided into two rooms, both with full video observation capabilities.

The RCEC will have nine faculty members drawn from the educational staffs at ASHB, Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast and Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf. Classes also will be taught virtually to take full advantage of the talents and experience of some of the best nurses on the Gulf Coast. Technicians dedicated to the Center will oversee the computer lab and all technology. Once the RCEC is fully operational, nurses who are recent graduates will participate in a Residency Program, and those planning to specialize can apply for the Fellowship Program. Both curricula will be implemented this year. In addition to onboarding new nurses, the Center will offer continuing education for all nurses and clinical staff.

The cost for this special training facility will be substantial – approximately $750,000. We are blessed to be part of Ascension Health which provided $250,000 toward the technological infrastructure and construction costs. The remaining $500,000 must be raised through philanthropy. As has been the case many times over the past 70 years, we will again ask the community to partner with us to create the RCEC. The result will impact patients and staff, alike.

This impact is best described by Terrie Fontenot, MSN, RN, CENP, System Chief Nursing Officer, Ascension Florida, “Across the entire healthcare continuum, no groups have a greater impact than our nurses and clinical support staff. The care they provide every day is second to none. Our new RCEC will provide them with the skills and tools to bring an even higher level of care to our patients. New nurses will be better prepared, have less anxiety, and an established professional support network when they assume their duties. Quality and safety will be improved, turnover reduced, and the joy of our profession will rise to the fore. Therefore, every Ascension Sacred Heart patient, regardless of location will receive the same level of superior care.”

This is an excerpt from Stories from the Heart. Click to read more.

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