National Nurses Week: Honoring Kathy Clarke

May 12, 2014  |  Frank Brooks

As part of our National Nurses Week blog series, today we focus the spotlight on Kathy Clarke, RN BSN CEN, a FreemanWhite staff member and an integral part of our ED design team.

Kathy Clarke hails from a family of Detroit firefighters, from whom she learned the many challenges first responders face in the field. Wanting to become a nurse from the age of eight, Kathy has an unparalleled talent for facilitating systematic changes that make care more successful for everyone. A strong patient advocate and a “fixer”, she uses her deep understanding of emergency department operations to find better ways of configuring space and staff workflow to make things work better.

“You have to have a passion for making a difference for a patient presenting to your ED, you have to want to challenge the traditions and not just accept them.“ 

Since becoming an ED nurse in the late 1970’s, she has been a part of setting up triage programs, emergency resident programs, trauma services, pediatric EDs, observation units, and behavioral health units. Back in 1979, ambulances at her hospital would drop patients off right into treatment spaces from the garage, and she was able to see the benefit of not backing up the vehicle to the garage doors. Even today, Kathy has to convince clients that it saves time to not have ambulances back up.

Just recently, she had a “this is why I do what I do!!” moment.

Kathy had to go to urgent care to be treated for a head wound, receiving seven staples in her scalp. While the doctor anesthetized and irrigated her wound, a nurse came to give her a tetanus injection. The nurse went under the drapes to deliver the injection but couldn’t reach the sharps container and had to stand and hold the dirty needle so she wouldn’t cross the sterile field. Kathy was teasing the caregivers, “This is why I do what I do, because they never put the sharps containers in the right place!”

(By the way, Kathy recommends multiple sharps containers so that when the caregiver has completed a procedure he or she can simply turn around to immediately dispose of the item without having to reach across the sterile field.)

Besides positioning the sharps containers so that they are accessible for staff, here are some of the details Kathy has taught our architects to be mindful of over the years.

  • Doors. Provide doors into the EMS storage and equipment room both from outside and from within the department. This way, someone doesn’t have to walk outside and around the building in order to place or retrieve equipment.
  • Restrooms.  Locate staff restrooms somewhere other than within the staff lounge. While it’s a longstanding fact that the public should not have access to staff restrooms, we should demonstrate sensitivity to staff members who use the lounge to eat during breaks.
  • Importance of natural light.  Without fail, when interviewing staff about the changes they would like to see in a new or redesigned ED, they always mention that it is dark outside when they begin their shifts and dark again when they leave.  Where possible to do so with patient privacy accounted for, we seek out opportunities to include windows in our designs.
ED Treatment Room with Natural Light

ED Treatment Room with Natural Light

  • Family nourishment space.  Many family members would prefer not to interrupt a staff member to obtain ice water or coffee for a patient or themselves.  By locating a nourishment station away from charting workspaces in an alcove or subwait, family members can comfortably “help themselves”.
Family Nourishment Station

Family Nourishment Station

  • Two wide doors in triage.  Staff need an “escape hatch” should a patient become dangerous, and the doors need to be wide enough for a stretcher if a critical event were to occur.  Ideally, the doors are “breakaway” doors, and the room is designed to allow a stretcher to swing into and out of the room without bumping into equipment. During crisis mode, tight clearances and having to be careful to not run into things are anything but helpful.
Triage with Breakaway Doors

Triage with Breakaway Doors

Not only do we appreciate Kathy professionally, many of us appreciate her personally as well!

Kathy has advised the numerous FreemanWhite staff who wander by her desk and say, “You know, I’ve had this itch….” But in one particular instance, she may very well have saved the life of colleague Delia Caldwell’s father.  After complications following Da Vinci surgery, and a subsequent nine-hour wait in the ED during which he remained untreated, Delia’s father had returned home to “ride out” increasingly progressive pain and other symptoms.  Through a third-hand description of his symptoms, Kathy identified the possibility of his having a bowel obstruction, a potentially life threatening condition. Through her insistent and emphatic communication, Kathy was able to prompt him to return to the ED, whereupon he was immediately admitted and remained for nine days. Without her help and caring, he might have waited too long to get back to the ED.

 We are truly lucky to have Kathy on our team!  We hope you too will recognize the nurses who make a difference in your hospital and your life.







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