Starla Whaley, RN, BSN, CEN - Bayfront Seven Rivers Hospital Emergency Department Director
Starla Whaley likes challenges. The Inverness native has taken on several in her nursing career. For the past 18 months, she has led the Bayfront Seven Rivers Hospital Emergency Department to higher standards of patient care. Now she looks to expand that challenge, to the hospital’s new freestanding Emergency Department.
Whaley received the Bayfront Health Seven Rivers facility and corporate award for Clinical Director of the Year. Since she became the director, the department has received a chest pain accreditation and stroke certification.
“All you need is an engaged leader,” said Whaley. “We have a fantastic team here.”
Whaley started her medical career in 1997 as a phlebotomist at Seven Rivers Hospital. After finishing nursing school in 2000, she worked at Munroe Regional Hospital in Ocala for 17 years, 15 of that at the facility’s freestanding ER on State Road 200.
“I always wanted to be a nurse or a vet. I like taking care of things,” she said. But family and life put a hold on career plans. After starting in nursing school at age 20, Whaley found out she was pregnant. Two years, later, another baby was on its way. After a five-year delay, she earned her RN and got her career going.
After stints in Munroe Regional’s NICU (Neurology Intensive Care Unit), intensive care, and critical care, Whaley moved to the Emergency Department – and discovered her place.
“We had a code and a stabbing, and I thought, ‘yes, this is where I want to be,’” she said. She worked the night shift in Munroe’s main Emergency Department, caring for pediatric patients, victims of gang violence, and shooting and stabbing victims.
“I was young and energetic, and loved to help with trauma cases,” she said. “Twenty years later, it’s not as exciting.”
Whaley moved to Munroe Regional’s Timber Ridge ER (now known as Advent Health Timber Ridge) for a new challenge, and to be closer to home. When the manager position became available, Whaley took on that challenge.
“We had a great functioning group at Timber Ridge; we were very compatible,” she said. “I was the charge nurse, so I knew some of what to expect. But it was such a well-oiled machine, I got bored.”
She took on the next challenge in her career, at Bayfront Seven Rivers. She found that with the transition to Bayfront Health Care, Seven Rivers’ ER had some logistical and organizational problems to solve.
“It’s been a little bit of everything – staffing, going through policies and processes. We worked on holding everyone accountable,” she said. “It was a lot of troubleshooting, and making sure processes improved.”
Whaley initially was on the floor a lot, helping to take care of patients, but in time, her staff and leaders began taking on that role.
“I’m still there when I’m needed,” she said. “I have a very capable staff, but at times we need all hands on patient care. People in this county are sick, and many wait until they are near death to come to the ER.”
That reality influenced the hospital’s focus on reducing and treating septic shock in patients. Septic shock is a life-threatening condition caused by a severe localized or system-wide infection that requires immediate medical attention.
“So many patients are so far gone when they come in, it’s hard to get people back from that,” she said. “It’s hard to educate the community because sepsis is so vague – we’ve had people come in thinking they just had a bad cold. It can happen quickly.”
Whaley and her team also focus on improved treatment of stroke patients. A certified primary stroke center, the hospital has worked to reduce the affect of stroke within the community. They partner with a teleneurology team to provide immediate care to potential stroke victims.
“This is lifesaving,” said Whaley. “We can’t have neurologists in the ER 24/7 and with stroke, every minute counts. We have neurologists on the monitor waiting for the patient to come in. They asses the patient before the CT scan is even done. My team has really stepped up to the plate with this. It is amazing to watch a stroke patient come back once the medication is administered.
“I am so fortunate to have so many good nurses,” she added. “The ER is not the easiest place to work.”
As part of her effort to improve processes, Whaley helped created a nurse practice council. The group meets every other week to discuss issues that affect nursing and address things they’d like to change.
Now she looks forward to her next challenge – the freestanding ER Bayfront Seven Rivers plans to build in Beverly Hills. The nine-bed unit, with some quick care beds, is scheduled for completion in early summer, 2020.
“We’ll have a dedicated lab and radiology,” she said. “I’m excited but terrified!”
Whaley lives in Inglis with her husband, Travis, and their 13-year-old daughter. Their small farm has 21 head of cattle, horses, and turkeys.
“That’s our hobby,” she said. Her two other daughters also live in the area.
“We’re all here in the county,” she said. “I hope no one in my family ever has to use the ER, but if they do, I’m proud of the care they will get.”