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Turning a Hospital Into Home

St. Louis Shriners Hospital Wins Award for Excellence in Inpatient Care

Natalie DeBarry was in the midst of her workday as a nurse in the inpatient unit of Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis when she stopped in to see Daniel.

It wasn’t to check his blood pressure or stick him with any needles. Rather, she helped him into a wheelchair and took him outside on a beautiful fall afternoon to read him a book he had been interested in called S-S-S-Snakes.

That kind of one-on-one attention and holistic care is part of the reason, hospital officials said, that the St. Louis Shriners Hospital won a 2020 Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence Award for inpatient pediatric care. It is the second consecutive year the hospital won the award, given to hospitals that rank in the 95th percentile or higher on patient satisfaction surveys.

“Our staff truly gets to know the kids while they are here, not just medically but personally,” said Barb Hancher, who was in charge of the inpatient unit during the rating period before her recent promotion. “If they have downtime, they’re reading books to the kids, playing games with them, painting their nails and giving them ‘spa days.’”

Daniel had had a challenging couple of weeks leading up to his outdoor reading time with Natalie. He had surgery on both legs and hips, followed by a second procedure to put him in an elaborate cast to promote healing.

“What we do is family-centered care,” said Tammy Keesey, nurse executive/director of patient care services. “We take care of the child, yes, but also mom and dad and siblings. It’s a full spectrum of care.”

That type of care is possible because of the hospital’s low nurse-to-patient ratios, said Scott Luhmann, M.D., chief of staff at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital for the past three years and a member of the medical team for more than two decades. Shriners Hospital’s ratio is close to 2-to-1, whereas other nearby children’s hospitals are more like 6-to-1.

“It’s much more of an intimate experience when you’re an inpatient with Shriners [Hospitals],” he said. “It’s not like you ring a bell and the nearest nurse is at a station 100 yards away. They’re right there. It’s like you’re recovering in your own home.”

The personal attention breeds familiarity, he said. “Nurses become like second mothers to the kids. When they come back to the clinic, they want to go visit someone upstairs, be that in respiratory therapy, physical therapy or a nurse,” he said. “They get to have that real, personal connection with our nurses.”

But it’s not just the emotional connections that lead to high patient-satisfaction scores, Dr. Luhmann said. Because the entire Shriners Hospital medical team is housed in one place, there is tremendous collaboration that leads to better outcomes for the child. “One thing lacking in medicine these days is continuity of care, but that’s something we have here,” he said. “We see the same kids over and over and over, and our entire team is right here talking with each other about what to do next. It improves the care, no doubt.”

Responsibility for keeping the momentum going now rests with Virginia Butler, who was hired in June to replace Barb. “No pressure or anything,” she said with a laugh.

She continues to promote those little “extras” that make the St. Louis Shriners Hospital special. In fact, she and her team are already making plans to improve the stay of a girl coming from Guatemala who likely will be spending Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in the inpatient unit. “We’re going to make sure it’s a special time for her,” she said.

"That’s what leads to success,” Dr. Luhmann said. “We have a phenomenal group of nurses. They want that connection with the kids. They’re not just coming in for a shift. This is their passion. They care.”

Natalie reading to Daniel

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