When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Augusta, respiratory therapists Amy Cato and Stephanie Robinson had just completed intense training to learn how to care for patients on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO).
The treatment has been available for pediatric patients for many years, but the adult ECMO program was still in its infancy at Augusta University Health/Augusta University Medical Center. However, as death associated with COVID-19 infection and pneumonia spread across the world, ECMO became a cornerstone for treating the sickest of these patients at AU Health with no other alternative to survive this devastating disease.
Now, the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) has recognized Augusta University Health as a Silver Level Center on the Path to Excellence in Life Support because of its swift achievements related to ECMO therapy.
The Silver award is given to ECMO providers whose programs are less than 3 years old.
An ELSO Designated Center of Excellence has demonstrated extraordinary achievement in promoting the mission, activities, and vision of ELSO; excellence in patient care by using the highest quality measures, processes, and structures based on evidence; and excellence in training, education, collaboration, and communication supporting ELSO guidelines that contribute to a healing environment for families, patients and staff.
These centers earn higher awards as they continue to demonstrate excellence in treating more patients over a longer period.
“It is an important recognition by a national organization for the expertise and commitment of this institution and its multidisciplinary staff to provide advanced therapies for lung failure,” said Dr. Vijay Patel, the Medical Director of the ECMO program at AU Health. “I would like to especially emphasize it is recognition of the critical care nursing staff, ECMO specialists, and our rehabilitation therapy staff, without whom it would not be possible to have a successful ECMO program. All of them truly demonstrated not only their expertise to provide complex care at the bedside but the overarching commitment to seeing these patients recover despite low odds of survival and be able to discharge them from the hospital. In addition, their support to the families was outstanding.”
Amy Cato and her colleague, Stephanie Robinson, were the first respiratory therapists at AU Health to train for providing ECMO in 2020.
As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Augusta and began escalating, they took a leadership role in training other respiratory therapists on the bridge-to-recovery intervention. They have since developed a training program and grown the team to 10 ECMO specialists.
“I think I’m still in awe that we were able to put the pieces together during a pandemic, to not only have a program to support ECMO patients in our community but much less even achieve this award,” Cato said. “We started this program, of course, before we knew about the pandemic, and I’m very glad that we started it when we did and that we had Dr. Patel leading the way. We were able to offer it to patients who are now alive. Seeing them getting back to their ‘normal life’ and how truly thankful their families give you a pat on the back for all the good work and hard work and many hours that we put in.”
The ELSO Award of Excellence was developed to recognize Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS) Centers that utilize the ELSO Guidelines for ECMO Centers and Training and Education. Additionally, the ECMO Program is reviewed for indicators in Quality, Value of Care, and Benchmarking categories. It was first available for application in 2006.