From vision to virtual reality: UHS collaborates with School of Nursing on ‘virtual hospital’

From vision to virtual reality: UHS collaborates with School of Nursing on ‘virtual hospital’

She wants to do more for patients, which is why Laura Ibañez is following in her mother’s footsteps to become a nurse.

Ibañez’s high ambitions motivated her to be among the first to inquire about the School of Nursing’s new 15-month bachelor’s degree program that is tailored for students who hold a degree in another field.

Having worked in an orthopaedic surgeon’s office and then as a laboratory technologist, Ibañez was already familiar with the challenges of providing patient-centered health care. “I saw other aspects, like helping patients with their insurance coverage, paperwork for surgery and appeals for Medicaid and Medicare,” the 29-year-old Mission, Texas, native said.

“I am very interested in giving back to the community,” Ibañez said. “Coming from the Valley, I know there is a very great need for people in the health professions. I want to go back to the Valley to provide care and to teach. After my bachelor’s degree, I’m planning to go for my master’s and Ph.D.”

One tool that will help her accomplish these goals is a state-of-the-art clinical simulation center being built in the School of Nursing. The first phase of the new “virtual hospital” — about 3,500 square feet — is being built through an agreement with University Health System.

The partnership is the brainchild of nursing Dean Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, who recognized the opportunity for the partnership when she was invited to serve on a University Health System advisory committee for the health system’s $899.4 million capital improvement program. The project will include a 1 million-square-foot hospital tower featuring new patient rooms, surgical facilities, an expanded emergency center and a trauma center.

These renderings give an idea of what the proposed Ambulatory Care Unit and control room (top of page) might look like.

These renderings give an idea of what the proposed Ambulatory Care Unit and control room (top of page) might look like.

“University Health System needed a place to try out different room configurations and to test new equipment, and we were looking for partners to help us build a ‘virtual hospital’ that we could use to provide the best possible clinical education for our nursing students,” Dr. Breslin said. “It was a great opportunity for us to work together and pool our resources for everyone’s benefit,” she said.

University Health System will provide $750,000 to construct mock-up operating rooms, patient rooms, an emergency center and other areas.

Over several months, vendors will use the space to demonstrate the latest equipment, including patient beds, lifts, furniture, flooring and lighting options. The features will be evaluated by University Health System doctors, nurses, support staff and administration, including some Health Science Center faculty members associated with both institutions, before being incorporated into the new hospital tower.

“Building mock patient rooms and operating rooms will enable our staff to provide important feedback to our Capital Improvement Team before we finalize our plans for the new hospital tower,” said University Health System President and CEO George B. Hernández Jr. “We are also thrilled to construct these facilities in the School of Nursing, where they will be able to support our joint mission to train the next generation of health professionals for many years to come.”

During this process, School of Nursing faculty, staff and students will have front-row seats. “Having all of this happening right here will give our faculty and students the chance to see the latest equipment and the process of how these decisions are negotiated and decided. This will be part of their educational and professional background,” said Suzanne Yarbrough, Ph.D., RN, associate dean for the undergraduate nursing program.

Once the room and equipment evaluations are complete, the area will be used for clinical training for nursing students, with the installation of more than $850,000 in training manikins and equipment capable of simulating many different patient scenarios.

“With the state-of-the-art rooms and new training equipment, we will have one of the best simulation training facilities in the country,” Dr. Breslin said.

“There are a lot of advantages from our standpoint,” said Mark Webb, vice president of Facilities Development and Project Management at University Health System. “One is the proximity. We will have all of our users going next door to test the spaces and equipment. It also gives us a greater level of flexibility.

“This type of evaluation is usually done in leased space and then it is torn down,” he explained. “In this case, it will be useful for the Health Science Center, and later on our staff will also be able to do some training there. Overall, this is a much better use of taxpayer dollars.”

An additional Health Science Center bonus is that students who later go to work for University Health System will have an easier transition due to their familiarity with the rooms and equipment. “We took a tour of the area where they are going to build the virtual hospital,” said nursing student Ibañez. “It’s going to be great!”

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