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On the Right Path - RN Finds Calling in Role at Saint Joseph

September 25, 2009
On the right path: RN finds calling in role at St. Joseph -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- by Joelle Moran Staff Writer Sometimes your career path leads you to where you’re meant to be. For Chris Vittum, RN and MSN, and Director of Quality and Regulatory Compliance at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital, that couldn’t be more true. After filling several important clinical and supervisory roles in her 23 years with St. Joseph, Vittum took over her new position in mid-June and says the job responsibilities have come naturally. “I’m a nurse by background and I always want to be a patient advocate, and it’s the ultimate patient advocacy role,” Vittum said. “If we’re always doing what’s right for the patient, and if I can see something we can improve upon, that’s what I want to do. It’s the right thing to do.” Vittum’s new position covers two areas for the Denver hospital: quality and regulatory. On the quality side, she oversees the “report cards” that measure care in each clinical area, such as critical care, OBGYN, emergency, etc. Several of these factors are “publicly reported indicators” that are required by the state and different quality groups nationwide. Other indicators St. Joseph’s reports that are not required but deemed important to the hospital include patient satisfaction, access to care and growth. The report cards enable patients and prospective patients to gauge quality and see patient outcomes. Working with Dr. Richard Hesky, a physician who oversees the Performance Excellence Committee (PEC), Vittum makes sure things are being reported and completed. The PEC then sends its information onto St. Joseph’s Executive Committee. If a clinical area is not doing as well the PEC would like, the members develop plans to produce better results and bring these departments to where they need to be, Vittum said. On the regulatory side of her position, Vittum prepares the hospital for various regulatory reviews such as the Joint Commission Survey (JCS). The commission is a nonprofit organization operated by a board of doctors, nurses and consumers that sets the standards by which health care quality is measured in the United States. The Joint Commission accredits every hospital in the country every three years. St. Joseph’s was reaccredited in May. Health care facilities are also required to meet federal standards through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Colorado Department of Health, among other non-governmental accrediting agencies. Vittum helps ensure St. Joseph is ready for any unannounced visits. Prior to assuming her new role, Vittum was Senior Director of Professional Practice when she was asked in November 2008 to prepare for the JCS in a short amount of time. “When I started doing that, it was sort of a natural fit for me,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like regulatory work, but I liked it very much. I liked seeing all of the improvements we’re doing. I wanted to be part of that.” After working on the JCS, which resulted in a small number of areas for improvement, Vittum said she wanted to continue focusing on quality and patient safety. She applied and was named Director of Quality and Regulatory Compliance. Vittum earned her BSN in 1985 and her MSN in 2000, both from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing. Since being hired at St. Joseph in 1986, she has worked as a cardiac nurse in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit, a critical care educator, manager of a telemetry unit, interim CNO and associate CNO. “I’ve had a great career here. I’ve got to try a lot of different things,” she said. What she’s equally enjoyed is the mission, values and family-oriented atmosphere at St. Joseph that makes it feel like home. “We care about each other and want to do the best thing for our patients,” she said. “It’s about integrity and it’s a faith-based organization.” Vittum also appreciates that St. Joseph is a teaching institution and loves the energetic learning environment where it’s OK to ask questions. And in her newest role, she gets to use her educational background to help other people learn what they need to succeed, while at the same time learn about areas of the hospital she’s never been directly involved with and help them improve quality of care. “It’s been a really wonderful experience getting to know the hospital,” she said. “I’ve been here for 23 years and I’m getting to know more people than just on the inpatient nursing side.” While Vittum said there’s a lot of work ahead in her new position, it’s also exciting as the quality and regulatory roles are starting to blend within the hospital and industrywide. St. Joseph also implemented an electronic medical record system July 1, which Vittum says will affect quality and how it can be measured. But when the day is over, it’s not the measurements that count so much, it’s patient outcomes and satisfaction. “We are saving lives because of the work that we do,” she said. Exempla Healthcare is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the LMC Community Foundation and the Sisters of Charity Leavenworth Health System, according to the group’s website. In addition to Saint Joseph, Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette, and the Exempla Physician Network are also part of the Exempla Healthcare System, which has 8,500 employees, volunteers and affiliated physicians.