Joint Commission Certifies Neurotrauma Program for Traumatic Brain, Spinal Cord Injury

The Neurotrauma Program at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has been awarded the Joint Commission Disease-Specific Care Certification for Traumatic Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury, making it the only acute care hospital in the country to earn both certifications.

“It’s an honor,” said Neurosurgeon Dr. Nicholas Theodore, the director of the Neurotrauma Program. “It’s recognition of this institution as one that maintains the highest standard of care for patients with both traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.”

The certification process took more than three years and involved two 24-hour site visits by the Joint Commission – an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs in the United States.

Members of the Barrow Neurotrauma Program pose with their care certificates for TBI and SCI

“We had to essentially review, update, document, and codify all of our practices for taking care of these patients,” Dr. Theodore said. “In other words, even though we do it every day, we had to be able to put in writing what we do, what the plan is, and how these patients are taken care of. When you do that, it makes you better at what you do.”

Neuroscience Nurse Practitioner Cindy Sullivan said many people were involved in the process, including physicians, nurses, chaplains, therapists, radiologists, and administration.

Cindy Sullivan, MN, ANP-C, CNRN
Cindy Sullivan
Neuroscience Nurse Practitioner

“Every part of the system that touches these patients was involved,” she said. “That’s why it was successful and why it will be sustainable. It was a big investment.”

Dr. Theodore said this collaboration is something that makes the Neurotrauma Program at Barrow unique.

“It’s a team approach to shepherding traumatically injured patients through the continuum of care, from the emergency room to surgery to the intensive care unit to rehabilitation,” he said. “Then we follow them into the community and make sure they are given every opportunity to, once again, become vital members of society.”

Dr. Theodore said that providing patients with access to clinical trials as well as acute care and neurorehabilitation is another strength of the program, which sees more than 1,000 traumatic brain and spinal cord injury patients each year.

“If patients are unfortunate enough to sustain one of these injuries, they know the treatment they are going to get here is cutting edge,” said Neurotrauma Program Coordinator Gary Smith.

The certification, which was awarded in summer 2015 and lasts for two years, involves ongoing assessment of the Neurotrauma Program. Dr. Theodore said he and others involved in the certification process, along with the Joint Commission, identified factors that they will evaluate to ensure the program continues to meet certain performance standards.

“We’re continually looking at ourselves,” he said. “We’re not just resting on our laurels and saying, ‘We’re good at what we do.’ We’re continuing to strive to do things better.”

Wendi Roberts, a registered nurse and the executive director of certification programs for the Joint Commission, said that Barrow and St. Joseph’s have become a leader in neurotrauma, “potentially providing a higher standard of service for traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury patients in its community.”

But Dr. Theodore said the goals of the Neurotrauma Program go beyond caring for patients at Barrow.

“It’s one thing to be a community hospital and take good care of patients,” he said. “It’s another thing to offer this level of care in the environment of a teaching hospital, where our mission is to train future leaders in neurosurgery and also advance the field of neurosurgery with respect to the care of trauma patients.”