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The Outer Banks Hospital recognized by NCHA for innovation to support patients, community members with dementia

The Outer Banks Hospital was honored recently by The North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) with NCHA’s inaugural Highsmith Award for Innovation. Named for Dr. John Highsmith, the first president of NCHA, the newly-created award recognizes innovation that creates value for patients and consumers of healthcare. The Outer Banks Hospital (TOBH), located in Nags Head, was recognized for its work to become the state’s first dementia-friendly hospital.

Partnering with the Outer Banks Dementia Task Force, TOBH developed a joint community and hospital leadership team to guide the hospital and business community in the creation of designated “dementia-friendly” environments to provide safe and supportive care for patients, families and caregivers affected by dementia. In addition to educating and training all hospital staff, TOBH initiated a Patient Companion-Volunteer Program through which trained volunteers provide respite care for patients, family members and caregivers in the hospital. The hospital also supports ongoing education for local community businesses, including 13 local restaurants that are now designated as “dementia-friendly.”

“Innovation in healthcare is, at its heart, about responding to the needs of the community and patients we serve,” said Steve Lawler, NCHA president. “The Outer Banks Hospital is an outstanding example of the way healthcare providers are adapting and changing not only to improve the quality of care we provide, but also to improve the care experience for patients and families.”

Medicare data shows people with dementia will have three times the number of hospitalizations, four times more hospital days and three times as many emergency room visits as people without the condition. Persons with dementia may cope fairly well at home; however, a change in environment may uncover or aggravate the cognitive impairment of a person with dementia. This can be especially challenging in a critical access hospital environment, where patient stays may be shorter in duration.

Since implementing the program in 2017, administrators at TOBH have seen positive results in improved patient and family experience ratings in both the emergency department and inpatient settings, decreased events of harmful falls and improved employee attitudes about patient safety culture.

The hospital-community partnership is beginning to work with other nonprofit groups, health centers and health systems that are seeking a roadmap for becoming dementia-friendly. It also is providing insight and support to numerous groups already committed to dementia-friendly initiatives.

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