Banner Health Opening ‘Virtual Hospital’ in Arizona for Medical Training

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 11, 2009

MESA, Ariz. – Scarlet oozes from the left ear of the 30-year-old male motorcycle accident victim. Helmet fractured. Rambling whispers. Dark bruises on chest near heart. Underwent knee surgery 24 hours earlier. Today, one eye dilated. Breathing rapid and shallow. Receiving medium-level doses of medication.

One or more of the above critical issues could be part of a training script in a new program that Banner Health medical workers and computer technicians are creating in metro Phoenix. The training will take place around 55 hospital beds in a 55,000-square-foot medical simulation facility under construction inside Banner Corporate Center Mesa. That’s the new name for the old Banner Mesa Medical Center at Country Club Drive and Brown Road in north Mesa.

“We’re calling it our 55-bed virtual hospital,” says Carol Noe, regional director of simulation and innovation at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in central Phoenix.

The training will be centered on 70 computer-controlled mannequins that, with prompting from computer operators in nearby rooms, will mimic a variety of human medical conditions. Medical workers enrolled in the two-week program will encounter all types of medical emergencies that, while simulated in this virtual world, will give them real-world experiences that officials say could take months or years to occur on the job.

“The goal is to give them the experience and to let them know that it’s okay to fail,” Noe says. “You’d rather fail in a simulation lab. That’s the pit-of-the-stomach moment. That’s the moment you’ll never do again in your clinical career, but you want that to happen in this environment.”

The mannequins will breathe, blink and speak. They will mimic a variety of medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, difficulty breathing, and negative reactions to medications. Noe says the mannequins may never be called dummies by staff or trainees.

Noe strokes the hair and straightens the gown of Noelle, a mother mannequin that was among the first group of robotic patients added to Banner’s 6,000-square-foot simulation medical training center at Banner Good Samaritan in 2006. On a table next to Noelle is Hope, a baby mannequin that mimics pediatric health issues.

The new simulation center in north Mesa is the key part of the former hospital. Noe credits the idea and design to Dr. Mark Smith, director of the Simulation Education and Training Center at Banner Good Samaritan.

Ideally, the medical workers will respond correctly and quickly during their training. But even if they don’t, mistakes become learning experiences because they can be evaluated to determine how they were made and how they can be avoided in the future, officials say.

The Mesa center will offer training where the only pain will be to the pride of trainees who make mistakes. If the “patient” goes into cardiac arrest because a trainee overlooked procedure or administered the incorrect type or dose of medication, no one dies, Noe says.

The renovation cost of the Mesa hospital is about $130 million. The high-tech facility will occupy more than half of the ground floor of the nine-story building. The rest of the building will be used by up to 1,100 Banner employees. Many of them are relocating to Mesa from leased offices across the Valley. Banner’s information technology workers will occupy floors eight and nine. The other floors will be filled with cubicles for Banner employees who work with physician groups, insurance companies, accounting, billing and finance.

The renovated hospital is set for completion in May. The medical simulation facility is to be finished a month later. Holder Construction Co. is the general contractor of the redevelopment project. The architect is Gensler Architects.

Several university medical schools in the United States have simulation facilities, but they are rare in private hospitals. Noe adds that in terms of size, the Banner facility will be one of the nation’s largest.

The high-tech medical facility will be used for advanced training for a variety of medical workers, ranging from secretaries and clerks to seasoned physicians and nurses from Banner medical facilities in Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, California, Colorado and South Dakota, officials say.

Others expected to receive the training include first responders, such as fire department paramedics, and medical workers at other private and public hospitals, Noe says.

The training program in Mesa includes a mockup emergency room, intensive care unit, a labor and delivery room, a pediatrics room, and more. The mannequins range from arms, upper torsos and complete human models.

The new training site will accelerate training for medical workers and improve patient care, Banner spokesman Bill Byron says.

“We gain in two areas,” Byron says. “Obviously the better skills, which means better patient care. But we’re also able to get a nurse on the hospital floor faster, which is very important in terms of nursing shortages and getting nurses up to speed faster.”

Noe says the price of computerized mannequins depends on their level of sophistication. The average price of Banner’s mannequins is between $40,000 and $65,000.

The building’s first floor dates to 1961, with the high-rise part of building added later in phases in the late 1960s.  The landmark building was known as Mesa Lutheran Hospital for most of its existence. Banner later bought the hospital. It was closed in late 2007.

Today, the former hospital has about 350,000 square feet, with 100,000 square feet on the ground floor and 250,000 square feet in the tower, says Daniel Stoecklin, project executive with Banner Health’s design and construction division. He says most of the 1,100 workers will be relocated by May.

Mesa Councilman Dave Richins is excited about the renovation of the old hospital. He sees the renovated building as both a good neighbor for north Mesa and an economic magnet likely to attract more redevelopment.

“Banner has come up with an amazing use for an old building,” Richins says. “Instead of tearing it down, they’re using some of their existing infrastructure, and they’re bringing a whole set of jobs and life to an existing site.”

Richins is founder of West Mesa Community Development Corp., a nonprofit group. He also works in the Phoenix office of the Sonoran Institute.

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Mar 11th, 2009

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