UCHealth gets to the heart of life support training

System hospitals band together to earn Training Center status from the American Heart Association
April 13th, 2016

UCHealth earned status from the American Heart Association as a Training Center for individuals seeking certification in a variety of life support skills. The award put the finishing touch on many months of preparation, information gathering, and collaboration between staff at hospitals in each of UCHealth’s three regions.

Training Center status, which was announced April 4, means that thousands of hospital employees, providers and community members will receive standardized instruction and certification in basic life support, advanced cardiovascular life support and pediatric advanced life support that adheres to AHA guidelines. The number is sure to increase as UCHealth adds hospitals now being built in Longmont, Colorado Springs and Westminster.

“Our potential for growth was a huge component for AHA in considering UCHealth as a Training Center,” said Trudy Orona, RN, MS, CCRN, supervisor of Life Support at UCHealth Metro Denver.

Nurse educators were among the providers at UCHealth Metro Denver April 4 who helped celebrate news that UCHealth earned Training Center status from the American Heart Association.

Orona led the team of Life Support staff from across UCHealth (see box) that successfully met AHA’s long list of requirements for Training Center status. She estimated that the UCHealth Training Center, as it will be named, will provide AHA-approved, evidence-based instruction in basic life support alone to some 10,000 staff and students annually.

“It gives us the potential to be a leader in life support and to put our brand out there as a provider of high-quality care with adherence to standards,” Orona said.

Keeping it in the house

The new status promises to benefit UCHealth financially, noted JoAnn DelMonte, RN-BC, MSN, UCHealth’s senior director of Professional Development. Rather than paying another AHA-authorized center, such as Colorado Advanced Life Support, for training, UCHealth will now be “a strong Training Center able to serve our own,” DelMonte said. “We will eliminate the middleman.”

Training Center status also means that UCHealth life support instructors at each hospital site will receive ongoing education and enrichment from AHA, ensuring they are “held to the highest standards” of care, Del Monte added. She said she anticipates UCHealth sponsoring and hosting AHA regional conferences open to nurses and providers throughout the community.

Tough sell

The process required diligence and patience. Even before they could prepare an application for Training Center status from AHA, the UCHealth team had to answer a list of more than two dozen questions, covering types of equipment used for training, teaching facilities, teacher-student ratios, course evaluations, numbers of certified students, and more. The Life Support team worked together closely to assemble the information, demonstrating that the hospitals were good candidates to collaborate as a system rather than function as a loose collection of individual entities.

“We presented our plea as a united front,” Orona said.

A lengthy formal application followed. Communicating regularly with Suzanne Salazar, AHA’s account manager, Orona organized information gathered from all three UCHealth regions, a job that took about six months. The data, stored on a SharePoint site accessible to all team members, covered the delivery of life support instruction in minute detail. The group compiled thick application submissions that included business plans; insurance coverage; policies and procedures for using maintaining, and storing equipment; three years of course offerings; and community service in each region.

In Orona’s words, the submission demonstrated “our vision of a Training Center.”

Show and tell

It wasn’t enough to tell AHA about the Life Support program, however. Representatives from the organization made a series of site visits to the regions to see for themselves. They reviewed the BLS and PALS programs in late December and early March, respectively, Orona said. The visitors’ fundamental goal was to see for themselves how well UCHealth’s program met the AHA’s life support guidelines, Orona said.

A balloon hovered over the festive gathering
A balloon hovered over the festive gathering in the Professional Development Department.

The community outreach for life support training long established by UCHealth Colorado Springs and Northern Colorado played an important role in AHA’s positive assessment, Orona said. UCHealth Metro Denver’s Life Support classes have been geared primarily to University of Colorado Hospital staff and CU School of Medicine students and providers, but Del Monte said there is potential for Metro Denver to reach a wider audience.

“Our intent is to expand offerings to more members of the health care community,” Del Monte said.

The complete transition to a unified Training Center, including contract signing, will take 30 to 45 days, Orona said. She anticipates the process to be complete in early May.

The Training Center award offers another example of what UCHealth can accomplish when hospital teams that once functioned independently unite around a common purpose, Orona concluded.

“It’s a true testament to what we are trying to do as a system,” she said. “It’s an example of coming together for a cause with the full support of all our entities.”


The successful effort to achieve Training Center status from the AHA involved Life Support team members from all three UCHealth regions:

  • Juan Badal, Metro Denver
  • Drue Bralove, Northern Colorado
  • Rich DeLisi, Colorado Springs
  • Istvan Hipszky, Colorado Springs
  • Cynthia Joseph, Northern Colorado
  • Sonni Logan, Northern Colorado
  • Allison Lowe, Metro Denver
  • Trudy Orona, Metro Denver
  • Sara Schabbing, Metro Denver
  • Emma Zuzelski, Northern Colorado

About the author

Tyler Smith has been a health care writer, with a focus on hospitals, since 1996. He served as a writer and editor for the Marketing and Communications team at University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth from 2007 to 2017. More recently, he has reported for and contributed stories to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Bioscience Association.