In late May, the nurses of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital’s intensive care unit received the Gold Beacon Award at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition.

The award is a national benchmark distinction that measures continual improvement among a team of critical-care nurses, measured by patient outcomes, the department’s work environment and its nursing workforce.

The Beacon designation comes in three levels: bronze, silver and gold. The gold distinction puts USC-VHH among 8% of hospitals in the state of California, which says a great deal for the team of nearly 40 nurses who care for patients in its ICU. Achieving the prestigious gold designation on the first attempt in the hospital’s history is a remarkable milestone for the team, marking a significant achievement in the unit’s journey to excellence.

“This is a recognition of excellence from AACN,” said Raffi Boghossian, MBA, BSN, RN, PHN, who is clinical director of ICU, telemetry, the respiratory department and wound care services at USC-VHH. “The Beacon award represents outstanding care in a unit that prioritizes patients, and for nurses, this honor can mean a more collaborative and supportive work environment as well as increased morale and lower turnover rates.”

Boghossian said that a big driver of success in this regard comes from all initiatives being nurse-driven. He cited two nurses in particular, Misak Anyan, RN, and Susan Lee, RN, who were instrumental in developing and implementing evidence-based initiatives to improve patient care, collaboration and morale.

The Beacon designation assessment takes all of this into account during a stringent assessment process that begins with a 50-page application that demands detailed examples of the department’s improvement initiatives and their outcomes.

One initiative cited by the USC-VHH ICU nursing staff was developed in response to patients getting pressure injuries, commonly known as bed sores, despite policies and best practices that require turning the patients every two hours (according to national patient safety recommendations).

After some investigation, nurses Anyan and Lee discovered that the unit’s common practice was to place a couple of layers of pads, known as chucks, under the patients, which prevented air from passing between their bodies and the mattresses.

In response, the nursing team worked with the environmental services department to implement a new practice of using only one chuck per mattress.

“When patients are admitted into the unit now, we also photograph any existing wounds or compromised areas, and yes — we still turn them every two hours,” Boghossian said. “That’s significantly changed the patients’ outcomes in this regard.”

When it came to addressing employee morale, the nurses developed an internal employee recognition program.

“When nurses observe a colleague exceeding expectations and consistently meeting Keck Medicine of USC’s KNOWN standards, they are encouraged to submit a nomination at a designated mailbox in the nurses’ lounge,” Boghossian said.

Twice a year, a new winner is selected to have their name and story added to a plaque displayed on the ICU wall for everyone to see. Additionally, the winner receives a monetary prize as a recognition for their outstanding contributions.

“Since this program’s implementation, the morale has increased significantly,” Boghossian said. “The team just gels together. They work so hard together.”

The resulting Gold Beacon designation is also proving to significantly boost morale within the team.

“We attended the NTI conference in Denver with nine nurses to accept this award. Since their return, they cannot stop talking about it,” Boghossian noted. “And this enthusiasm translates directly into the care they provide to our patients.”

The recognition also inspires Boghossian, who said the accomplishment underscores the dedication, hard work and commitment of everyone involved, reflecting the team’s collective effort and commitment to delivering outstanding patient care and service to our community.

“It brings me immense joy as a leader to witness the incredible accomplishments of our nursing staff and how these achievements positively impact patient care,” Boghossian said. “Working with such dedicated individuals is my motivation every day. It’s a true blessing, and I am also grateful to my leaders who have supported me in working alongside them and achieving this amazing goal.”

— Kate Faye