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Healing Our Heroes: Sepsis education yields immediate results at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Urgent, complex and challenging medical cases enter into the emergency department at Metro Health – University of Michigan Health every day. Emergency Department Nurse Leona Kwekel says, some cases are so severe, she never forgets them. She recalls one particular day when a patient didn’t just catch her attention, he grabbed hold of her heart.

The patient was living at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. As a veteran, he served our country with honor. “I love veterans,” Kwekel said. “I genuinely love the elderly. That’s where my heart is.”

The patient, who was willing to sacrifice his life for our nation, was diagnosed with a severe case of sepsis, a disease process caused by an infection in the body.

“Patients frequently die from sepsis,” Nathan Baar, Director of Emergency and Urgent Care Services, stressed. “When your body starts failing to fight that infection, or it becomes overwhelmed, you start seeing the signs of sepsis.”

For every hour that treatment for sepsis is delayed, mortality increases by eight percent. Kwekel immediately consulted with Clinical Nurse Specialist Mandi Schoolmeester, and they developed a plan for sepsis education.

“If Leona gets her hands into anything that she’s passionate about, she’ll follow through,” Schoolmeester said.

Turning Treatment into Advocacy

“We felt like there was an opportunity for education at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans,” said Kwekel. “If we bring more sepsis awareness to the community, it will mean better outcomes for patients.”

Kwekel worked with Baar and Schoolmeester to develop an educational presentation for nurses, caregivers and staff at the Home. The presentation explained what sepsis is, how it starts, the steps the diseases process goes through, the signs and symptoms as well as ways to treat it.

“I loved this presentation,” exclaimed Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Infection Preventionist Linda Rose. “My hope is that, as Metro staff was speaking, my staff was seeing the faces of our residents and thinking about whether they meet sepsis criteria.”

Schoolmeester views the presentation as a unique way to honor and serve veterans. “Even though we didn’t speak directly to veterans during our presentation, we’re providing them with an opportunity for better health outcomes just by giving the staff more knowledge.”

Immediate Results

Metro Health held four separate education sessions at the Home, and the results were astounding. Rose says staff members put the teachings into practice soon after the first session.

“We had a resident who was having a problem, and our staff caught it immediately. They called me to say the sepsis training had nailed it,” she shared. “We’re doing something great, and I appreciate the collaboration with Metro Health.”

Kwekel was excited to see everything come full circle. “Providing education, then hearing the feedback, was amazing. They put what we taught them into an actionable plan right away.” Not only that, but identifying the signs of sepsis, and treating it early, may help patients avoid trips to the emergency room altogether.

It’s the Metro Way

This type of community support, advocacy and action is what Metro Health encourages throughout its organization. “We have such a strong focus to engage with our community to make not just the patients we care for better, but the communities that we live in better,” Baar explained.

Baar observed that Kwekel took what some may consider a problem and instead saw it as an opportunity to go above and beyond. “It was a proactive approach. It was an engaged approach. She took time to see the bigger picture, and found a way to succeed instead of reasons to fail.”

Rose truly values Metro Health’s commitment to sharing knowledge and educating the community it serves—especially veterans. “This is all about making sure that we’re utilizing best practices as early as we can. It’s also about doing it in a way that’s honorable for veterans. We want to do the best we can all the time because they deserve it.”