News Center

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Franciscan St. Francis Health shines in 2014 Health Care Heroes

INDIANAPOLIS – Two Franciscan St. Francis Health physicians and a Franciscan Visiting Nurse Service were in the limelight today (March 6) at the Indianapolis Business Journal 2014 Health Care Heroes program. 

Paul Winchester, MD, medical director of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, was named finalist in the Physician category. Gerald Walthall, MD, medical director of palliative medicine, shared finalist honors in the Advancements in Health Care with Susan Hickman, PhD, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Franciscan VNS was a finalist in Community Achievement in Health Care, which was accepted by Project Manager Lori Melton.

This annual IBJ program recognizes individuals and organizations in the health care industry that make significant strides improving the health and well-being of the community. 

Over the last decade, Winchester has developed and guided a robust NICU for the sickest and most at-risk infants at the hospital’s Indianapolis campus. As one parent of a former patient wrote: “I remember walking into the NICU and Dr. Winchester smiling and welcoming me with open arms. After all my daughter and I had been through I finally felt at peace and couldn't wait to have her transferred under his care. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that I wasn't the only advocate my daughter had.”

Winchester, who also is a professor of clinical pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, is highly regarded for his research. Specifically, he has studied how maternal exposures to commonly used chemicals in the environment may change human genes in subtle but serious ways in utero and contribute to preterm births, birth defects, reduced fetal growth, and the onset of adult diseases.

His research has been substantiated in other academic venues and continues today, expanding to address related issues. Winchester is considered an expert in such studies and has been published widely in professional journals.

Walthall and Hickman were recognized for their collaborative work in the formation of Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST), which was approved by the Indiana General Assembly in 2013 The document is used by providers to communicate treatment preferences of patients with advanced illness or end-stage disease.

POST differs from an advanced directive or living will because it is a valid doctor’s order that can be implemented immediately. Such orders may range from whether to give antibiotics, resuscitate or whether to insert a feeding tube. Patients can also pre-determine the duration of treatment.  The form is printed on bright paper to make it immediately recognizable by any health care provider.

With the backing of several Indiana medical professional organizations, Walthall and Hickman formed the Indiana Patient Preference Coalition to present to state lawmakers.
Walthall, a retired otolaryngology surgeon, has been affiliated with Franciscan St. Francis Health for decades. He has served as chief of surgery and held numerous clinical and administrative leadership roles.

Franciscan VNS was recognized for its proactive Patient Health Coaching Program designed to reduce hospital readmissions among patients who have chronic health conditions and are served by VNS. Readmissions are a leading and costly problem faced by the nation’s health care system, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The Patient Health Coaching Program involves ongoing weekly phone calls, monitoring of vital signs and weight, along with heightened questions regarding patients’ diagnoses. That information is transmitted via secure telecommunications technology and is reviewed by a critical care-trained registered nurse. In turn, the nurse is able to recognize patients’ conditions and implement early intervention if necessary.

VNS and other Franciscan St. Francis clinical operations have achieved a marked decrease in 30-day hospital readmissions for heart failure and pneumonia. Additionally, the program has resulted in measurable cost reductions for care.

Founded in 1913, VNS has a solid corps of skilled nurses, certified home care aides, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, dietitians and medical social workers – all of whom work closely with patients’ primary care and specialty physicians in more than 20 Central Indiana counties. VNS aligned with Franciscan St. Francis in 2011.

This latest recognition is not the first time Franciscan St. Francis Health staff have been recognized as Health Care Heroes. Click here to view past recipients.

Accepting for VNS from left, Coach Patricia Nicholson, Coach Stephanie Blount, Program manager Lori Melton, Mike Puskarich, Beth Keultjes, Rhonda Deluise,  and Coach Stacey Ahlbrand.
Drs. Walthall and Hickman shared honors for their work.

Dr. Winchester is flanked by members of the Women and Children's Services Parent Advisory Group.