Former CFL star lauds new team
May 31, 2012
AHS program helps heart failure patients manage condition
Herm Harrison took a lot of hits when he played football but nothing sent him reeling like heart failure.
The former Calgary Stampeders standout, who has high blood pressure, experienced difficulty breathing last year and was rushed to Foothills Medical Centre by ambulance. After a week in hospital, he was discharged with his follow-up care already planned out. Within two weeks of leaving the hospital, Harrison received a phone call referring him to the city’s Heart Failure Clinic, which he continues to attend every three to four weeks.
“The program staff are amazing,” says the 69-year-old member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. “They talk me through everything; how to manage my blood pressure and my medications. Am I ever blessed to have care like that.”
Across the province, heart failure patients such as Harrison are spending less time in hospital, and are less likely to require readmission, as a result of an Alberta Health Services (AHS) program developed by members of the Cardiovascular Health and Stroke Strategic Clinical Network.
Heart Failure Optimization gives heart failure patients the information they need to best manage their condition, and also co-ordinates a wide range of community supports so patients, once discharged, can continue their recovery.
Piloted in 2010, Heart Failure Optimization has reduced length of stay in hospital for heart failure patients in the program to 11 days from 12, and patients are 20 per cent less likely to be re-hospitalized within a 30-day period – gains that have a significant impact on improving access to cardiac care.
“In Alberta, over 80,000 people suffer from heart failure and it is the leading cause of hospitalization for people over the age of 65. With more than 10,000 heart failure patients hospitalized every year, sending people home even one day sooner and reducing the number of readmissions frees up beds and resources for other patients, improving access and reducing wait times for all,” says Dr. Blair O’Neill, Senior Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Health and Stroke Strategic Clinical Network.
Established by AHS, Strategic Clinical Networks (SCNs) are provincewide teams comprised of health care professionals, researchers, community leaders, patients and policy makers. Each SCN is dedicated to developing care ‘pathways’ in a specific area of health that will enhance the patient journey, improve outcomes and standardize care delivery across the province.
Heart Failure Optimization is a tangible example of this work.
The Cardiovascular Health and Stroke SCN determined the most dangerous times for heart failure patients are when they are first admitted to hospital and in the weeks following discharge.
“With Heart Failure Optimization, we focused on those two times,” says Dr. Jonathan Howlett, Director of Heart Failure, Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Department of Cardiac Sciences Foothills Medical Centre and University of Calgary. “When patients go home we need to make sure they are prepared. Heart Failure Optimization does that and we can offer better patient care and a safer transition home.”
While in hospital, nurses teach patients about heart failure – the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs – and get them started on a workbook that provides information on medications, symptoms to watch for and nutrition tips.
A week following discharge, patients are contacted by a heart failure liaison nurse who asks if there are new or worsening symptoms, if prescribed medications are being taken and if there is a need for further follow-up.
Harrison, for one, appreciates the ongoing support.
“They really care about me,” he says of program staff. “That makes me want to do everything they tell me. They’re constantly monitoring me. They never leave me out there. They give me their phone numbers and tell me to call if I have any problems.”