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Salem VA Medical Center


Healthy Teeth, Healthy You!

Healthy Teeth, Healthy You!

Oral Hygiene Project Cuts Pneumonia Cases at Salem VA Medical Center

By Brett Robbins, Public Affairs Officer
Friday, January 5, 2018

Across the United States, oral care is missed 70 percent of the time during inpatient admissions. Poor oral hygiene is associated with an increased chance of developing hospital acquired pneumonia.

Germs in the mouth multiply rapidly and are frequently swallowed (aspirated) into the lungs during sleep. Mechanical removal of these germs through regular tooth brushing aids in preventing pneumonia. In recognition of this, a pilot program at the Salem VA Medical Center aims to reduce hospital-acquired pneumonia by providing oral hygiene care to Veterans during hospital stays.

Project HAPPEN, (Hospital Acquired Pneumonia Prevention by Engaging Nurses to provide oral care) began in October 2016 at the medical center’s Community Living Center (CLC) by Shannon Munro, Ph.D., Nurse Researcher; Dr. Owais Farooqi, Chief of Dentistry; Dr. Shikha Vasudeva, Infectious Disease Physician; and Mike Raczynski, R.N., Infection Control Nurse, and Georgine Kamide and Leslie Woodie, Nurse Managers.

Project HAPPEN has saved an estimated nine lives and reduced the incidence of hospital acquired pneumonia by 92 percent since it began. Considered a best practice and with the support of the Undersecretary for Health’s Diffusion of Excellence team, the program expanded to Houston VA Medical Center’s Coronary Care Unit and 3D Step Down as well as the rest of the medical center’s inpatient units.

“It is an exciting time to be a part of VA. As of October 31, Project HAPPEN has saved over $1.92 million dollars and 48 cases were prevented at the Salem VA medical Center in one year,” according to Munro.

Salem VA Medical Center has now expanded its efforts to its medical surgical units in addition to each of the CLC units in the seven hospitals in VISN 6 in October 2017. Staff representatives from each unit have been trained and are embracing the roll out of this project.

“Patient and staff education alone is not sufficient. Staff members need to be supported and engaged to improve the provision and documentation of basic nursing care and they need readily available high quality oral care supplies. Cases of hospital acquired pneumonia need to be tracked and the success of each team needs to be celebrated,” explained Munro.

Project HAPPEN in partnership with Sutter and Kaiser Health Systems has engaged hospital representatives from all 50 states, six provinces in Canada, as well as Australia, Brazil, Greenland, and the United Kingdom. The project was also nominated for the National Quality Forum and Joint Commission John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award.

“The shortest task, tooth brushing, was considered a low priority by many before we started this journey. Now we are seeing Veterans and staff paying more attention to this life saving 2 minute per shift intervention. Veterans have been open to assistance with their oral hygiene and feel better with clean teeth. Most just need a gentle reminder to complete oral care after meals,” said Munro.

Salem VA Medical Center continues to improve the way it delivers high quality health care. Watch the video for a special message for Veterans and their family members about prevention of pneumonia:


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