Monday, March 28, 2011


What to do when your loved one needs critical care

Having a loved one in critical care can be a stressful and frightening situation.

Critical care units (also known as intensive care units) are specialized units where highly-trained nurses take care of one or two patients at a time. These patients are usually very ill and often require life-support machines or medications that nurses must monitor closely.

Whether a patient is in the critical care unit (CCU) as part of an expected plan of recovery, or from a sudden, traumatic experience, such as a cardiac arrest or motor-vehicle accident, it can be overwhelming for both the patient and the family. Here are a few tips to help make the experience less upsetting:

Visiting hours. Due to the intensive care that patients receive and the highly sensitive nature of many procedures and assessments, visiting hours are often restricted to certain times of the day. For the protection of the patient and the family, visitation is often limited to family members only and usually only two visitors at a time may be in the room. Occasionally, nurses may ask visitors to wait in the waiting room during report or while they perform assessments or procedures that may be uncomfortable for family members to witness.

• Name a spokesperson. Communication is essential when a patient is critically ill. It is important for the doctors and nurses to receive accurate information from the family, but it is also important for the family to receive consistent communication from the doctors and nurses, while still protecting the patient’s privacy. Having a spokesperson is the best way for both parties to maintain communication. Speaking with the same person throughout the patient’s stay in the CCU ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the patient’s plan of care. This spokesperson would then pass on information to the rest of the family and any close friends. This ensures that nurses are able to spend more time caring for the patient and less time answering questions to multiple family members on the phone.

• Don’t focus on the bells and whistles. Walking into a critical care room can be nerve-wracking with all those alarms beeping and lights blinking. We want family members to be part of the healthcare team and speak up if you think something isn’t right. However, don’t get lost watching the monitors – your most important job is to be there for your loved one. They need your emotional support more than anything and you are the best one to provide that. Listening to alarms beep can be scary, but the nurses are trained and highly skilled to handle that aspect of the care. Do what you do best, which is caring about your loved one.

• Take care of yourself, too. It is perfectly natural to want to be there every waking moment for your loved one. But it is important to protect your own health as well. Make sure you are still eating, drinking, taking your medications and getting plenty of rest. Reach out to support systems, such as friends or clergy members for your own emotional support. You will be of no help to your loved one if you end up admitted to the hospital as well.

As a family member, you are an important part of the healthcare team for your loved one. It is our hope that these tips will help improve your experience as your loved one recovers in the CCU. To learn more about the Backus CCU and view a video on what to expect, visit

Megan Mooney is a registered nurse in the The William W. Backus Hospital Education Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Mooney or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 21, 2011


Collaboration the cure to region’s obesity problems

March is National Nutrition Month. But it is what is happening locally that deserves special attention.

A Backus Hospital health needs assessment of eastern Connecticut has identified obesity as a major health concern in eastern Connecticut. Obesity levels are higher than both the state and national average, and can lead to a wide range of costly — and sometimes deadly — health problems.

This is a health crisis that no one person, or organization, can take on alone. That’s why it is heartening to see a wide range of local organizations collaborating to seek solutions.

These solutions include a Food Policy Council, which across the nation have proved themselves to be one of the best ways to make lasting improvements in a region’s nutrition — and reduce obesity.

The council was formally launched Monday at a press conference held at the Gemma E. Moran Food Center in New London. In addition to Backus and the United Way, partners include Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Thames Valley Council for Community Action, United Community and Family Services, the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, and FRESH/New London. Other partners will be added as the group selects projects and seeks grant funding.

Food policy councils are strategic partnerships that seek to make sustainable change in the community’s nutrition. Instead of investing in a program that might last a year or some other limited time frame, they focus on long-range solutions that ran range from food labels in stores to healthy school lunches and community gardens. They seek sufficient funding and provide real tools for lasting change.

While specific solutions have not yet been developed, this week’s announcement of the New London County Food Policy Council — which was begun with a grant from Backus Hospital as a direct result of the hospital’s health survey — is a very promising start to what will prove to be a long term endeavor. You can learn more about the food policy council at

What else is being done to tackle the region’s obesity problem? We continue to expand our Backus Weight Loss Center. In addition to bariatric surgery, we now offer the Backus Medical Weight Loss and Wellness Program.

The new program is being piloted with employees first, and will be opened to the public later this year. It is designed for people who do not qualify for weight loss surgery but are dedicated to making the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight – and keep it off.

What sets it apart from other programs is the medical expertise and one-on-one time that a team of Backus dietitians, doctors, nurses, physical therapists and counselors can offer.

The 18-week program is the only one of its kind in the region, and includes nutrition and exercise assessments, goal-setting, meal plans, food journals, behavior therapy, yoga, label reading, supermarket tours and more.

To qualify, you must have referral from a doctor and a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 26. You can calculate your BMI at For more information about the bariatric surgery or weight loss programs, call 860-889-8331, ext. 8740, or visit

Mark Tousignant, MD, is a minimally invasive general surgeon with Backus Physician Services and Medical Director of the Backus Weight Loss Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Tousignant or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 14, 2011


Stressful times call for simple pleasures

We live in stressful times. Everyone is stressed — whether it is from the after-effects of the natural disasters abroad, the political unrest, local violence, sweeping weather changes, or high rates of unemployment and financial hardships.

Dealing with life on a daily basis can be daunting, leaving us depleted and exhausted, with a loss of the precious vitality we all need so much. So what’s the solution? How do we get revitalized? I offer the following tips:

Humor. If it is true that “laughter is the best medicine,” then we can all benefit by looking at the funny or humorous side of each situation. When I worked for Hospice, even my patients who were well aware they were at the end of life told me that they appreciated humor, and needed to “take a break” from the seriousness of life. I scour the Sunday newspaper to find funny cartoons and stories that I can share with my co-workers, friends, and family. There are numerous listings in the “comedy” section of the movie rental section.

Seek out the positive. Develop the habit of seeing the positive side of life. We don’t have to be Pollyannas — after all, bad things do happen and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. But an optimistic outlook can help us cope with stressful situations. And there really is a positive side to every situation. Sometimes it takes a little more effort to find it.••

Nurture your creativity. Everyone has a creative side, from which something can be produced — a tangible piece of evidence of your contribution to the world. Perhaps it is a flair for gardening, crocheting, or quilting. Musical talent may be your gift. Perhaps you can make wooden furniture, or sketch and draw nature scenes. My mother took a watercolor painting class at age 87 and is still producing lovely paintings that will become treasured family heirlooms.

Exercise those muscles. Taking a walk is another stress-buster. Brisk walking with a friend is wonderful exercise for the body and soul. Besides the obvious physical benefits, it clears the mind as well. I recently took a walk in an area of town that I had never explored — and was pleasantly surprised to see the winter bird feeders, the melting snowmen children had created in front yards, and the door decorations that made each home unique.

Be grateful for what you have. Several friends and co-workers from Backus recently returned from a medical mission in cholera-stricken Haiti. One of them, Cindy, remarked, “I am so very appreciative of the blessings in my life.”

When frustration mounts, take time to revitalize yourself. Most of these things are free. Laugh, create, support, or walk. Your family and friends will thank you for it!

Alice Facente is a registered nurse and clinical educator with the The William W. Backus Hospital Education Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Patient safety is a year-round endeavor

We are in the midst of National Patient Safety Awareness Week, but hospitals and patients must focus on safety year round.

At The William W. Backus Hospital and many healthcare organizations nationwide, the number one priority is to enhance quality and safety. It’s part of our mission – to give our patients the best care possible.

From the moment a patient enters the doors of the hospital, safety is a concept that is practiced, taught and reinforced.

And we are more transparent than ever before. The U.S. government tracks patient safety and satisfaction at hospitals, and we make our results publicly available at

This website also offers reports a weekly percentage of patients who, when surveyed, say they would recommend Backus to their friends or family members; patient safety videos; and a patient handbook that offers patients safety information for before, during and after their hospital stay.

We are constantly seeking innovative ways to make care safer for our patients – whether it is simple things like frequently washing our hands, offering pre-surgery education or installing a pharmacy robot to reduce medication errors.

We spend a lot of time researching best practices and implementing these strategies to reduce patient falls, improve surgical safety by initiating timeouts before each procedure, monitor our patients more closely through hourly rounding, bedside reporting so that our clinicians are at the bedside and not in conference rooms and monitoring data and acting on it in real time.

But as a patient or family member, you are also part of the healthcare team. And National Patient Safety Awareness Week March 6-12 is a good time to offer reminders on how you can play a role in your healthcare, including:

• Ask questions about your care.
• Tell us if you don’t understand what we are saying
• Explain to us what you need or want
• Share your medical history
• Tell us about prior medical problems and surgeries
• Make sure we know about any allergies
• Read your discharge instructions and make sure you understand them – and ask questions before you go home.

Working together, we can all improve patient safety – year round.

Bonnie Thompson, an advanced practice nurse, is Administrative Director of Organizational Excellence at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Thompson or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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