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ChristianaCare Medical Intensive Care Unit Earns First-in-the-Nation Honor for Nursing Excellence From the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses

ChristianaCare MICU becomes first in United States to renew Beacon Award for Excellence for fifth-consecutive three-year cycle

ChristianaCare’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) has earned an unprecedented honor from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

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Among the thousands of intensive care units in the United States, ChristianaCare’s MICU is the first unit in history to earn a Beacon Award for Excellence from the association, also known as AACN, five times in a row.

The Beacon Award is one of the highest achievements in nursing. The recognition lauds hospital units that employ evidence-based practices to improve patient and family outcomes. The award provides gold, silver and bronze levels of recognition to hospital units that exemplify excellence in professional practice, patient care and outcomes.

Of the six Beacon Award-winning patient care units currently in the state of Delaware, five are at ChristianaCare:

  • MICU (gold – five-time winner).
  • Cardiovascular Critical Care Complex (gold – three-time winner).
  • Transitional Medical Unit (silver).
  • Surgical Critical Care Complex (silver).
  • Transitional Surgical Unit (silver).

ChristianaCare was one of 34 hospitals in the nation in 2021 with multiple units receiving Beacon Awards. Beacon Award designations are active for three years.

“Through their relentless and uncompromising pursuit to deliver care that is nonpareil, the nurses of ChristianaCare’s MICU have become the paragon of what our profession can accomplish,” said Ric Cuming, EdD, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, ChristianaCare’s chief nurse executive and president of ChristianaCare HomeHealth. “The success of our ChristianaCare MICU, even in the face of this pandemic, also has inspired our health system’s other intensive care units to achieve unprecedented gains in safety and quality that have been recognized with the AACN’s Beacon Award, the touchstone by which all critical care nursing excellence and quality are measured.”

Success in caring for patients amidst COVID-19

ChristianaCare’s values of love and excellence are at the heart of the 24-bed MICU at Christiana Hospital, which holds the most Beacon Awards in Delaware. This year’s award is especially meaningful on the heels of yet another difficult surge of COVID-19.

“It is a testament to our nurses and the entire care team that we continued to reach milestones in patient safety and satisfaction even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Carol Ritter, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, CNML, who has been nurse manager on the MICU for 10 years and a leader on the unit during all of its Beacon Award wins.

“Everyone brings a level of expertise to the unit. We truly serve together.”

Beacon awards celebrate the professional dedication that a nursing team demonstrates in going above and beyond to provide respectful, expert care.

“Meaningful recognition takes on even greater relevance and importance as we continue to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said AACN President Beth Wathen, MSN, RN, CCRN-K. “Being recognized as a Beacon unit underscores these teams’ ongoing commitment to providing safe, patient-centered and evidence-based care to patients and families. This achievement is a tremendous honor to those who have worked so hard to achieve excellence in patient care and positive patient outcomes.”

ChristianaCare is one of only 152 health care institutions in the nation and the only in Delaware to have gold-level units. In 2008, the MICU was the first unit in the state to receive the Beacon Award.

MICU’s culture of continuous improvement

The MICU’s commitment to data-driven, evidence-based care proved especially valuable during the pandemic’s early days.

Prone positioning, a technique to help patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) to breathe better, had been a longtime practice in ChristianaCare’s ICU. ChristianaCare critical care nurses Maureen Seckel, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCNS, FCCM, FCNS, and Dannette Mitchell, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCRN, published an article in AACN Advanced Critical Care that described ChristianaCare’s pioneering adoption of this technique, which ultimately became standard practice nationally in the treatment of patients with COVID-19 and ARDS.

“On our unit, we empower the team to provide evidence-based care and have the tools to guide the practice,” Seckel said. “Because of this we were able to incorporate a highly effective, life-saving measure into COVID-19 care early in the pandemic.”

Continuous improvement is a hallmark of the unit. The MICU has seven Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program teams that follow data-collection processes to view trends and compare them to national standards to improve care and outcomes.

“The whole unit is involved in collecting data to assess and make changes,” said MICU nurse Olivia Ross, BSN, RN, CCRN.

Among the MICU’s accomplishments are excellent outcomes in preventing common hospital-acquired infections, even during the pandemic:

  • Zero instances of catheter-associated urinary tract infections in three years.
  • Zero instances of central line bloodstream infections in one year.

The unit’s dedication to being exceptional today and even better tomorrow also focused inward during the pandemic. During a time of constant change, the team recognized the need for support to handle the unprecedented stress and strain of the pandemic.

“To give the most vulnerable patients the highest levels of care on a consistent basis, we needed to take care of ourselves and one another too,” Ritter said.

Ritter and team leaders committed to open-door policies throughout the pandemic, and they partnered with ChristianaCare’s Center for WorkLife Wellbeing to enable licensed psychologists to round on the unit, offering real-time check-ins with caregivers to provide support.

The Beacon Award has been a resounding lift and reward for the MICU team members.

“Having this recognition, especially during times of distress in the community and the world, signifies excellent nursing care,” said MICU nurse Paige Merring, MSN, RN, CCRN. “And to me it signifies an amazing team and great outcomes, which is the primary purpose of why we are all here.”


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About ChristianaCare

Headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, ChristianaCare is one of the country’s most dynamic health care organizations, centered on improving health outcomes, making high-quality care more accessible and lowering health care costs. ChristianaCare includes an extensive network of primary care and outpatient services, home health care, urgent care centers, three hospitals (1,430 beds), a freestanding emergency department, a Level I trauma center and a Level III neonatal intensive care unit, a comprehensive stroke center and regional centers of excellence in heart and vascular care, cancer care and women’s health. It also includes the pioneering Gene Editing Institute.

ChristianaCare is nationally recognized as a great place to work, rated by Forbes as the 2nd best health system for diversity and inclusion, and the 29th best health system to work for in the United States, and by IDG Computerworld as one of the nation’s Best Places to Work in IT. ChristianaCare is rated by Healthgrades as one of America’s 50 Best Hospitals and continually ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and other national quality ratings. ChristianaCare is a nonprofit teaching health system with more than 260 residents and fellows. With its groundbreaking Center for Virtual Health and a focus on population health and value-based care, ChristianaCare is shaping the future of health care.