WILLMAR -- Kathy Hunt couldn't wait to show off one of Rice Memorial Hospital's new hover mats.
With a whoosh, the red mattress inflated beneath a volunteer. Almost effortlessly, Hunt slid mattress, patient and all onto an adjacent bed.
"It's the best technology. Patients really do find themselves more comfortable," said Hunt, director of emergency services and respiratory care at Rice Hospital.
The hover mats, part of a project initiated this past year to make it easier and safer to move patients, were among 17 programs showcased Thursday at the hospital's annual quality and safety fair.
It's a chance for hospital staff to highlight what happens behind the scenes to improve the quality of care and the patient's experience, said Maureen Ideker, chief nursing officer.
For instance, there's the hospital-wide project, launched more than a year ago, to reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers and skin breaks. In the surgery department, staff are working diligently to prevent wrong-site surgeries. There's been the introduction of programmable "smart" pumps for delivering intravenous medication, and a streamlining of the patient admission process.
"It really is a great time for people to get together and see what's going on in our facility," said Teri Beyer, chief quality officer. "We'll never run out of projects. There's always a better way to do things. It's not a destination, it's a journey."
At any given time, at least a dozen projects are being tackled by employees and the medical staff, Ideker said. "We make a lot of changes and it takes all of us."
It's important to patients too, she said.
"They really do care about quality and safety," she said. "They want to know hospitals are working on things to make them safer, that they're comfortable while they're here. They want to know things are being coordinated. They want to feel cared for. I think the public expects that we will be making improvements to hit a higher standard."
Projects in the spotlight Thursday ranged from relatively short-term undertakings that involved a single department to large-scale, long-term system change.
The initiative to reduce pressure ulcers, for instance, has meant developing a systematic way of checking all patients for pressure sores and skin breakdown, said Cathy Moe, a wound care and ostomy nurse.
Team members have had to address issues such as mattresses, wound cleansing products and even overall nutrition that might contribute to or help prevent pressure ulcers.
Patients at risk for pressure ulcers aren't necessarily the old and frail, Moe said. "It can be an alert and oriented patient who just came back from surgery and doesn't want to move because of pain."
If pressure ulcers aren't prevented or healed, they can get worse, become infected and limit the patient's ability to be up and out of bed, which might lead to other complications such as blood clots or pneumonia, Moe said.
The project has been getting results, she said. Last year Rice Hospital had no pressure ulcers that were reportable to the Minnesota Department of Health's adverse event database.
A project to prevent sponges from being retained inside the patient during delivery achieved similar success.
"We're implementing something we know has worked other places. This project has made a huge difference," said Wendy Ulferts, director of inpatient services for women's and children's health.
This kind of tracking is critical. Indeed, it represents research on patient care that's carried out at the local level, Ideker said.
"These are very real situations to us," she said. "The staff takes a lot of pride in making these improvements because they see that they make a difference."
The hospital's medical staff is also very engaged, she said. "They look at data. They look at what the evidence is showing us. What is the best practice? The expectation is that we will all move there together."
Lessons learned at Rice are often shared with other organizations. Last year, an initiative by the Willmar Ambulance Service to shorten response times was picked for a poster session by the Minnesota Alliance for Patient Safety.
In a show of friendly competition Thursday, teams deployed photos, visual aids and candy to promote their projects. A panel of judges picked four winners in two categories.
Among smaller-scope projects, an initiative to speed up the pre-surgery admission process took first place and the retained-sponge project in obstetrics took second. Among large-scale projects, the implementation of an electronic medication administration record was first and the safe skin initiative was second.