Sleeping Giants

Meet the “sleeping giants” of 2013. These are no mythical behemoths; they are the dedicated professionals whose zeal and commitment to the world of sleep has earned them first-place honors in ADVANCE’s 11th annual National Sleep Achievement Awards competition.

Entries were submitted for months from a national field of nominees, and then judged by a panel of fellow sleep medicine professionals. The winners offer a renewed level of pride and competence to the field they so proudly represent.

Listen as our winners offer advice for excellence in sleep medicine here.

Best Facility
The Sleep Wellness Institute, West Allis, Wis.

Craig A. Muri, RST, RPSGT, REEGT, clinical director, nominated his facility because he knew they had to be doing something right. “People never believe us when we tell them what our compliance rate is — we have about a 92% CPAP compliance rate. Other sleep people will say ‘no way.’ But it’s true, and that’s pretty great considering the national average is between 40 and 50%.”

Muri says the stellar stat is due to the center’s staff – 62 people strong, including 13 sleep techs, fulltime physicians, nurse practitioners, and an in-house DME – which makes the facility’s “huge compliance program” run like clockwork. “We’re a one-stop center,” said Muri. “Patients can come here for consultation, studies, follow-ups and ongoing care. After we do a hook up, we make sure patients understand everything, and can ‘play back’ the essential information to us. It all gets covered. Then we do calls at two days, two weeks, two months, six months. If you can get patients to be successful at three days, you can get them to be successful at 90 days.”

In addition, The Sleep Wellness Institute (the largest, independently-owned, free-standing sleep center in the state) maintains a vigorous “30/30” mask program, adding heft to compliance efforts. Muri explained, “A patient is given 30 days to try a mask, and if they don’t like it they can exchange it for a new one, and try that one for 30 days. As long as they keep replacing masks within 30 days, they can go through all 30 masks if they want. They essentially could be going through masks, one after another, to find the optimum mask that is comfortable and works for them – for 30 months. We get a lot of positive feedback about that – especially from patients who have faced the expense of having to purchase a new mask at another center when the first mask didn’t work out.”

Another point of distinction is The Sleep Wellness Institute’s outreach that goes far beyond state borders. Named the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation, the effort is committed to assisting those who often lack access to health services.

“We have organized collections of CPAP machines donated from people who don’t use them anymore,” said Muri. “Then we provide them to others who can’t afford them and would go without treatment otherwise. Vendors generously supply — at no cost to the foundation — masks and other goods. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, for example, we sent dozens upon dozens of CPAP machines down to people who had lost theirs in the storm.”

The Sleep Wellness institute has grown tremendously over the last decade. “When I started here 10 years ago we were doing 40 studies a month —- now we’re doing over 300 a month. We have 12 beds at this location and two at satellite location,” said Muri.

As for the impact of staff on the center’s success, Muri quickly pointed out, “We’re a team. We value our employees — we don’t have top-down management, and that is one of the things I love most about this place. It takes everyone in the company to make it successful. From housekeeping to techs to medical director, everyone impacts a patient’s care. If our team members are successful, then our patients will be successful with their therapy. That’s what it is all about.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mountain Sleep and Diagnostic Center, Asheville, N.C.
  • Sleep Disorders Center, Capital Region Medical Center, Jefferson City, Mo.

Best Manager
Karen Walls, RPSGT, BBA, MBA, clinical manager

Crestwood Center for Sleep Disorders
Huntsville, Ala.

“I was shocked! Oh wow,” said a happy Karen Walls upon learning she had been named winner of the “best manager” category. She was unaware she had been nominated for the honor, because her professional life has been in a perpetual state of motion.

“We’ve been so busy these last 6 months, we just opened up a new satellite lab and we extended from 10 to 16 beds. When I got the phone call that I had won, I wondered, ‘Who did this? Who nominated me?’ It came as a complete surprise – and a great one. I am very privileged and grateful.”

The graciousness of her comment serves to prove the point of her nominator, Tammy Hammett, RPSGT, RST, who called Walls “.. a great person, a wonderful friend, a devoted manager and an awesome sleep tech.”

Asked to pinpoint her managerial style in a word, Walls was quick to say, “Communication. I try to keep everyone in very close contact through reporting off shift to shift – making sure communication skills are in place to help me establish ties with the team. I use that communication to offer continuing support, and encourage a sense of teamwork and trust.”

Walls also offered that communication is only effective when it goes in two directions, hence listening is every bit as important as speaking. “I make it a point to listen – really listen — when someone is in front of me. In such a busy work environment, time can be limited. So I make it count. My staff members get my full attention when we are together. Besides, providing support for team is a win-win situation. When they succeed, I succeed, the center succeeds, and the patients have more successful outcomes.”

Walls has had the benefit of a seasoned staff in place for the last 5 years or so, but she said she actually encourages those who want to test the waters at another center or facility. Her unique take on retention is to hold the reins lightly.

“If an employee thinks maybe they could find something better out there – greener pastures so to speak — and want to experience other labs, other physicians, other facilities, I send them off with my blessings,” said Walls. “But what I find is that just about all of them who leave eventually want to come back. And I am always open to taking them back. I feel they can bring new ideas to the table. I encourage them to get outside experience and then bring it back to us!”

Crestwood Center for Sleep Disorders has grown tremendously with Walls in her management slot, going from 4 beds to 16 beds in the latest, most recent expansion. “It’s an amazing accomplishment the way our economy is today. We have been very blessed, yet challenged at same time. We have lots of competitors. I credit our expansion to an administrative team and a medical director who really lead us and help target growth areas.”

With a brand new center – complete with Sleep Number beds selected by Walls — now up and running, the patient numbers are climbing upward. “We had been sleeping from 50-60 patients per week, and now we’ve added another 6 per night, so we’re looking at easily 90 patients a week,” Walls enumerated. And that means 90 chances per week to change a life.

“The big reward in sleep medicine is in seeing someone come in who is sleep deprived, irritable, stressed; helping that person that first night, setting them up with CPAP, and seeing their relief. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘Thank you. I should have done this 10 years ago.’ To get that kind of feedback from patients — that’s the big payoff.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kristina St. Peter Weaver, Sleep Department, Parrish Medical Center Port St. John, Fla.
  • Michael Sleboda, Carilion Stonewall Jackson Sleep Center, Lexington, Va.

Best Practitioner
Jody Ramsay, RPSGT, RST

Center for Sleep Medicine at Androscoggin Valley Hospital
Berlin, N.H.

“There are a few things about the field I love,” said an animated Jody Ramsey, RPSGT, RST, who has earned the 2013 “best practitioner” title. “There’s the patient interaction – that’s very important — and then there is always something new to be learned and applied. I used to be a night shift tech, now I’m on days so I do the mask fits. And that is right up my alley — it feels very important to me to be able to help patients find that crucial level of comfort.”

When comfort — and ultimately compliance — are reached, her career also becomes her passion. “I get to see life-changing moments,” said Ramsay. “Absolutely. One woman told me I should become famous for causing such a big change in her life,” she recalled through a laugh. “And one man said he’d trade his wife for a CPAP machine if necessary —it had completely revolutionized the way he felt — awake, alert, energized.”

It’s hard to cap Ramsay’s enthusiasm as she discusses the importance her chosen profession as reflected in the lives of her patients. “What’s so cool about sleep medicine is we can do a baseline study and treat the patient in the same night. Not many doctors or healthcare professionals get to see their results that quickly. We can go from a diagnosis to treatment, to success all at one time.”

Ramsay has been in sleep medicine for five years, and all have been at Androscoggin Valley Hospital, where she is the only RPSGT. When she started, she was “it” – the only sleep medicine person at the facility. But times have changed. “We’ve grown – recruited our own physician, and now there are two night technologists and a medical assistant. We’ve been really fortunate here to be able to pull together as a team — we’ve become family.”

Ramsay has had plenty to do with that team spirit. She recruited the two techs out of the hospital’s pharmacy and trained them with “everything I know, and now we just kill it! We are working on getting them ready to take the exam to become RPSGTs. They’re studying hard. Building an entire department . that’s the goal!”

Toward that end, Ramsay is also proud to note that she has encouraged the team’s medical assistant to start training as a sleep technologist. “She’s on board with that,” said Ramsay delightedly.

It all underscores claims by her nominator, Wendy Sweatt, that aforementioned medical assistant, who noted on her entry: “Jody goes above and beyond to promote the sleep profession. She is a great model for her co-workers due to her eagerness to continue educating herself and others . Her warm smile, great personality, knowledge and ability to explain her profession in a manner people will understand make her a ‘gold standard’ sleep technologist.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mike Brown, RPSGT, IntegraSleep, LLC, Raleigh, N.C.
  • John Varghese, RPSGT, Center for Sleep Disorders, Doctors Hospital of Augusta, Ga

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