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MDI Hospital, Penn Medicine unite to bring cutting edge care to region

June 9, 2011

Medical evidence may finally show that ‘chilling out’ may literally be the best medicine.  That’s the message medical providers from the Mount Desert Island region are getting as they learn how to put therapeutic hypothermia into practice.

It’s a therapy that experts say has the ability to “snatch people back from the dead” and it is now available from Bar Harbor to Bangor because of a unique partnership between MDI Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania.

Leading experts from Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science traveled to Bar Harbor to train paramedics, nurses, and doctors on the inner workings of therapeutic hypothermia (TH). It’s a technique that, in many cases, doubles survivability and brain function recovery in patients suffering from cardiac arrest.

Experts say the technique has come of age over the past 10 years or so but is still available in only about 35 percent of hospitals nationwide because of the specific nature and availability of training. Bringing this and other state-of-the-art techniques to MDI Hospital is the direct result of a strategic initiative established by the MDI community to provide access to experts at Penn Medicine.

“A group of friends of MDI Hospital were looking to see what they could do to help us improve our standards of care,” said MDI Hospital’s Director of Emergency Medicine JR Krevans, MD. “Many of these folks are also associated with Penn Medicine and they asked us ‘What would you like to see come out of this partnership.” The result is a multi-year interdisciplinary collaboration that will bring leading experts to MDI Hospital for programs such as the TH training.  “This gives us access to the true experts in this and other fields,” Krevans said, “but it also reinforces the importance on every practitioner to look to the science.”

In addition to education and training opportunities, the partnership will also put Penn physicians and nurses in the MDI Hospital Emergency Department for four weeks this summer with lengthier stays planned for the following two summers.  “It’s a terrific opportunity for us to learn how they practice emergency medicine,” Krevans said “and for their residents to see what it’s like to work in a rural practice.”

Now that the MDI team, including paramedics, nurses, and physicians, are versed in the procedure for therapeutic hypothermia, they have a new tool in the treatment of cardiac arrest.  The process calls for cooling the patient’s temperature to about 92 degrees F for a period of 24-48 hours.  According to Benjamin Abella, MD, MPhil, Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science’s clinical research director and the pioneer of the technique, in order to be most effective, the procedure needs to be in place in a timely fashion. That’s why he and his team of physicians and nurses like to train everyone who has contact with the patient in the first few hours of care. “We believe education (about TH) has to approach everyone because of the collaboration between fields that is required,” Abella said.

To extend the team approach to the entire region, MDI Hospital invited providers from seven other health care organizations to participate in the therapeutic hypothermia training including Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Lifeflight of Maine, Bar Harbor Fire Department, Southwest Harbor Ambulance, and Northeast Harbor Ambulance.

The regional approach to the training ensures that patients can receive this care from the moment they are treated by paramedics, when they reach the emergency department, and on to intensive care and recovery, which results in better outcomes for the most seriously afflicted patients.

At MDI Hospital, emergency department staff expect to utilize this technique only a few times a year but as a tool that can make the difference between recovery and permanent disability, it is an investment in the community that is poised to have profound effects well into the future. “The Penn partnership gives MDI Hospital access to resources that enable us to advance our role as a critical access hospital and demonstrates that the quality of care is not related to bed counts or proximity to a population center,” said MDI Hospital President and CEO Arthur Blank. “When you need care, it’s the team that is treating you that matters most.”

Posted in 2011