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Hospital's Woody Stewart unit keeps hearts beating strong
Medical Center cardiac wing stays busy with patient load, technology
Cardiac patients at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center are instructed on diet restrictions before they leave the hospital. The new Woody Stewart Heart Failure Treatment Unit features a state of the art demonstration kitchen and high tech video system to improve patient access to the education from their rooms or via smartphone. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Since its opening this fall, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville’s advanced inpatient heart failure treatment unit has seen no shortage of patients — and that might be just a sign of the times.

“More people come to the hospital with heart failure than anything else,” said Pam Williams, a registered nurse in the unit. “That’s true nationwide and here as well.”

The hospital opened the 16-bed Woody Stewart Heart Failure Treatment Unit on the South Tower’s second floor to give specialized treatment to people with heart failure, a condition marked by the heart’s inability to pump blood efficiently to other organs.

“We stay full pretty much all the time,” medical director Dr. Brenda Hott said. “It’s a wonderful-sized unit, but we still have patients with heart failure who are in other places in the hospital because we don’t have the capacity.”

NGMC already has a strong reputation for heart care through its Ronnie Green Heart Center, which offers intensive cardiac medical and surgical inpatient care, including open-heart procedures.

The Woody Stewart unit will offer therapies “that the patient would have previously had to travel to Atlanta or farther to receive,” Hott said.

Patients are visited by nurses, case managers, social workers, physical therapists, chaplains and others on daily rounds “to ensure optimal care,” the hospital said through an earlier news release.

The goal is that “the patient, family and other caregivers have all of the tools necessary to self-manage heart failure once returning home.”

The private rooms feature nature-inspired artwork, seating that becomes oversized sleepers for caregivers, motion-sensor night lights, tiled bathrooms, showers and LCD televisions with bed control elements.

“It’s nice to have patients in a specific area where you have nurses especially trained to take care of (them),” Hott said. “The patients get better care. And (that care) helps decrease hospital length of stay.

“We have very educated personnel used to taking care of (the disease). They know the nuances of the disease process.”

One of the patients, Mildred Sequin, had nothing but high praise for the unit, its staff and mission.

“They went beyond their jobs — it’s a super bunch of human beings,” the Blairsville resident said in a recent phone interview.

Her experience with the unit began Nov. 3, when she had a heart attack at home.

“I just faded away,” Sequin recalled of the ordeal. “(My daughter) said I was talking one minute and the next minute, I was not there.”

Her daughter called 911. Sequin’s next memory is waking up at NGMC.

She ended up staying in the hospital for 12 days undergoing heart procedures. She now goes regularly for checkups, with her next appointment in January.

Medical personnel in the unit “were very thorough about my diet,” Sequin said. “I had to give up all my salt. Eating habits had to change and I had to exercise more.

“My whole lifestyle has changed.”

The unit also features the Nathan-Schrage Teaching Center, which will provide education classes and cooking demonstrations for heart patients.

The 1,600-square-foot center includes a kitchen and high-tech audio/visual functions to broadcast classes to patient rooms and other locations.

Hott said the hospital is working to get a certificate of occupancy for the center, which, officials hope, will open soon.

“That’s a very unique feature,” she said.

Also, the hospital announced in November it now has a device smaller than a dime that, “once implanted ... sends pressure readings to a monitoring system,” said Dr. Christopher Leach, an interventional cardiologist with The Heart Center of NGMC.

“We are now able to get real numbers and measurements in real time.”

Ultimately, the device can help keep heart failure patients from being admitted to the hospital.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website, the device “is permanently placed in the pulmonary artery, the blood vessel that moves blood from the heart to the lungs.”

“When a patient has increased artery pressures, it’s the first sign that there is an abnormality,” Hott said. “If those symptoms are detected when it is happening, we can change the patient’s care plan and therapy — which thereby reduces the likelihood that they would progress to requiring hospitalization.”

Technology is key to treating the disease, and “we want to continue to stay on the cutting edge,” Hott said.

She said the heart unit also has “some research protocols that we are going to be starting soon so we can offer our patients’ participation in research trials.”

The unit is also growing in numbers. Two doctors are on staff, with a third expected on board in August.

“And we’re recruiting a fourth,” Hott said.

Also, as NGMC’s heart failure program is growing, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton, which opened in 2015, is seeing six to eight patients daily.

“We anticipate the program will grow down there,” said Eva Johnson, NGMC’s heart failure disease manager.