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March 2002

Critical Care Nursing at Sharon Regional

By Mary Jane Altham, RN. BSN, CCRN
Director of Critical Care and Cardiology Services

Critical care nurses are licensed, professional, registered nurses with advanced education, training, and skills to care for patients with complex medical and surgical problems. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses defines critical care nursing as “that specialty within nursing that specifically deals with human responses to life threatening problems.” These nurses also use their advanced skills to provide emotional support to the patient and family.

Critical care offers nurses the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings to create an environment of healing and quality care. The initial encounter usually is in the emergency room where rapid assessment and actions are required. Critical care nurses also staff the Recovery Room (Post Anesthesia Care Unit) after surgery and the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, where the nurse assists with lifesaving coronary angioplasty and stenting.

Most critical care units are filled with an abundance of high technology equipment. Monitors for heart rate, heart rhythms, blood pressure, and amounts of oxygen are used to assist the nurse with care. Lifesaving equipment includes breathing machines (ventilators), kidney machines (dialysis), pacemakers, and others. The critical care nurse must have the skills to use the equipment, interpret findings, provide nursing care, and administer medications while, at the same time calm the fears of the patient and family. These nurses assume an awesome responsibility and have an exciting challenge.

Originally, specialty care units were established to provide intense nursing care for patients with a variety of illnesses. The Coronary Care Unit (CCU) was created to care for patients experiencing a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms. The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was developed to care for a broad group of patients for surgical procedures, burns, or trauma. Sharon Regional opened its first Critical Care Unit in 1969. That initial hospital unit was a large room with only curtains dividing the patients.

Today, the critical care units consist of 12 beds ICU/CCU, 10 beds in the Cardiovascular unit for post open heart surgery and angioplasty patients, a 21-bed wireless monitoring (telemetry) Intermediate, and a 10-bed surgical telemetry unit.