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The birthday candles are burning brightly amidst a garden of bold, sugary flowers. Leaning forward, with their long blond hair tossed over their shoulders, my beautiful twin girls take a deep breath, and together, blow out 19 candles. In addition to celebrating turning 19, they are also enjoying the college freshman experience, along with the promise and potential of being community leaders, straight A students, runners, writers, and photographers. Nineteen years ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to experience this special parental moment—delivered 16 weeks early, each and every single one of those early moments was precious, and each and every one of those moments was a struggle.
At the time, I had been a nurse for well over a decade. And as an experienced nurse, I was used to healthcare operations and the drama and fast pace. I had worked in the emergency department as a chief flight nurse, built a Level II trauma program from the grassroots, as well as spent time as a floor nurse and house supervisor. Regardless of the setting though, when calls came in, I was fortunately blessed with the education and experience to know exactly what to do—and how to do it in real time—because lives were on the line. It was why I got out of bed in the morning—it fed my soul. In fact, I even met my husband—the Deputy Chief of the Tupelo Fire Department—at an accident scene while we were both working as partners to save a life. Professionally, I had seen and experienced so much related to quality healthcare. But with my daughters, it was different and it was personal. I was no longer the nurse on the front lines who was calm and collected under pressure—I was the new mom who was making deals with God, and vowing to do whatever I could to make a difference if these babies could just survive.
The next three months were a complete roller coaster—an endless blur of monitoring, codes, procedures and surgeries. The girls’ home [and mine and my husband’s] was the NICU at “my hospital,” North Mississippi Medical Center. Even with everything going on, I considered myself blessed. I had my staff and co-workers, the people I considered as my family, there to step in and be the nurses and healthcare providers—ready to respond, ready on the helicopter when the girls needed to be transported for emergency surgery, ready to change their IVs and make sure they were getting transported to the right test or procedure. And just as importantly, ready to hold my hand, dry my tears, and tell me that everything possible was being done, that these girls were strong, and they were not just going to make it—they were going to thrive. The nurses (and physicians) were my heroes—and they were right about everything.
Eventually we said a joyful goodbye to our hospital family and brought the girls home to the bright, cheerful room and tiny baby things that had been patiently waiting for them. And it was also now my time to give back. I loved my time at the bedside and at that trauma scene as a nurse—delivering emergent care, holding a patient’s hand, being there for their family members, refocusing and being ready for the next patient because I knew it was someone’s mother, father, sister…
At the same time, I knew from experience that it wasn’t just the nurses and physicians at the beside who were responsible for delivering care—and efficient patient access and patient throughput. There were lots of people working behind the scenes to make sure my daughters, and others, received the care they needed—from when they were resting comfortably in their NICU incubators to when live-saving emergency heart and abdominal surgeries were needed. I knew the power of technology and processes to make things work properly—and the life or death implications when they didn’t.
And that’s how I determined my new mission, and how I was going to give back in a different way. With the support of an excellent executive leadership team, I started at North Mississippi Medical Center taking highly seasoned, highly functioning, nurses who had incredible critical thinking skills, who knew how to work hard under pressure and giving them the tools they needed to ensure patients were receiving the right care, at the right place at the right time. I wanted to help ensure that things would work out for the next new mom who delivered early. Or if someone was having a STEMI and needed to be life-flighted, that helicopter was deployed, the ER was ready for them when they arrived, and the cardiac team was on alert and ready to spring into action.
[July 12, 2017: NMMC Transfer Center Coordinates Behind the Scenes]
I’ve now moved beyond just North Mississippi and have been involved in helping more than 100 health systems across the United States and as far away as the UK open their doors to more patients, and help ensure these patients receive everything they need to recover. I work with wonderful teams of nurses and other healthcare providers who are committed to continuously improving care for the patients they serve. We talk frankly about what their challenges are, and then work collaboratively to find solutions to impact quality improvement in healthcare—by bringing together people, process and technology, and all the while keeping the patient at the center. And every time I think of keeping the patient at the center, I think back to two little babies – our two little babies – who were at the center, and now put other people at the center of their lives.
If you’d like to hear more from Joy, listen to her podcast— Saving Lives: Just Another Day at the Office for Joy Avery.
Joy Avery began her nursing career in 1986 and has had the opportunity to deliver patient care in a wide range of roles over the years—from Director of Specialized Clinical Services responsible transfer centers, patient flow activities, bariatric services and nursing leadership programs, to Chief Flight Nurse and Trauma Program Manager.
As the Vice President of Clinical Strategy at TeleTracking, Joy uses her clinical expertise to facilitate rapid patient access solutions at health systems across the country. Having been involved in the implementation of 100 command centers, Joy can speak extensively about the power of a robust transfer/referral center and how when operations are centralized across an enterprise system, admission requests from other hospitals and local physicians can be coordinated.