Tidewell Hospice Simulation Lab

Apollo and Ares inhabit a room rife with healthcare hazards, both obvious and obscured.

Cords and tubes snake across the floor. Cigarettes lie in close proximity to an oxygen supply. Prescription medication bottles are strewn across a counter. Cockroaches perch atop dirty dishes in the sink. Soiled adult diapers are draped on a sofa.

It’s a scene hospice nurses may encounter when visiting the home of a patient, where the needs of a person at end of life can overwhelm the acts of daily living.

The home of Apollo and Ares is part of the new Tidewell Hospice Simulation Lab at an education facility in Bradenton. Tidewell Hospice is a member of Empath Health. Apollo and Ares aren’t real, at least in the sense of being living, breathing humans. They are advanced training mannequins standing in as patient and caregiver.

The Simulation Lab is designed to mirror the living room of a patient and caregiver, where the majority of hospice care is delivered. On Feb. 3, the Empath Health Clinical Education staff held an open house for organization leadership to tour the Simulation Lab. The leaders completed a scavenger hunt that required them to interact with the mannequins and identify safety hazards.

They quickly discovered Apollo and Ares are not your grandfather’s CPR mannequins. Manufactured by Sarasota-based CAE Healthcare Inc., they can be programmed to exhibit physical symptoms such as labored breathing, elevated heart rate, irregular heart rhythm and abnormal lung and bowel sounds. They communicate, with the help of an iPad-wielding trainer, by speaking about what they are experiencing. The software that accompanied the mannequins allows trainers to program scenarios and react to questions in real time.

Apollo is the hospice patient. He lies in a hospital bed. Ares is Apollo’s caregiver, but she has health issues of her own. Sitting in a recliner, she has trouble breathing and is worried about her partner.

Getting accustomed to such an environment is especially important for new hospice nurses, many of whom experience their first healthcare training in the controlled environment of a hospital or clinic. In hospice, nurses must be adept at treating symptoms and providing education as well as having difficult conversations with caregivers and loved ones.

“The goal is to get the jitters out here,” said Anita Smith, Empath Health Director of Clinical Education. “Then we can have a high level of confidence when we go into the field. Providing care in the patients’ home is very different from providing care in an acute-care setting. The simulation prepares the caregiver to provide high quality care in the home and ensures a consistent experience for the patient and family.”

During an educational exercise, the clinical education specialists facilitate the simulation scenario and monitor the healthcare providers from a separate control room with cameras in place. After the simulation scenario has been completed, the trainees undergo a debriefing to reflect on communication and care provided, best practices and the patient/caregiver experience.

The Simulation Lab is set to open in March. The majority of trainees will be Tidewell Hospice nurses at first, but other Empath Health nurses may also use the lab.

The Simulation Lab is the next generation of hands-on training for nurses and is thought to be the only one of its kind for a hospice. It’s another plank in Empath’s workforce development effort that also includes a Nurse Residency Program.

Funding for the Simulation Lab came from the Empath Health Board of Trustees and donor/volunteer Julie Osborne, who also made the initial donation to get the Nurse Residency program off the ground.

“The Sim Lab has all the possibilities to enhance the training and education of the nurses with hands-on exploratory environments and critical reviews of their learning experiences which better prepare them for meeting patient and family needs during their real-life visits,” Osborne said. “It seemed like the next logical step after the Nurse Residency Program in Tidewell’s mission to recruit, train and retain a quality hospice nursing program with a staff who feel fully supported by the organization.”

For more information about job opportunities at Empath Health, visit Careers.EmpathHealth.org.