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St. Mary’s receives second consecutive two-year COPD certification


ATHENS, GA. – St. Mary’s Health Care System has again earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval™ for its program to care for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD at St. Mary's Hospital
Blair McCarty, left, registered respiratory therapist and certified pulmonary function technologist, prepares to conduct a pulmonary function study at St. Mary’s Hospital.

St. Mary’s COPD program was first certified in 2016 and recently underwent a routine recertification survey. To earn continued certification for COPD care, St. Mary’s demonstrated compliance with The Joint Commission’s national standards for health care quality and safety in disease-specific COPD care. The certification recognizes St. Mary’s dedication to continuous compliance with The Joint Commission’s state-of-the-art standards.

COPD is a group of long-term conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis that make it hard to breathe. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is becoming increasingly common and now affects more than 11 million Americans. Most often caused by smoking or air pollution, COPD is the third leading cause of death in America.

“The good news about COPD is that it is often preventable and treatable,” said Michele Johnson, manager of St. Mary’s Respiratory Services Department. “We have built a robust program to help our patients breathe better. Whatever level of care our patients need, whether it’s ventilator care in the ICU or support through our Better Breathers Club, we are here to help.”

During this year’s recertification survey, a team of Joint Commission expert reviewers evaluated the hospital for compliance with the overall requirements for The Joint Commission’s Disease-Specific Care Certification program as well as standards, clinical practice guidelines and performance measures specific to COPD.

“In achieving Joint Commission certification, St. Mary’s has demonstrated its commitment to the highest level of care for its patients with COPD,” said Michele Sacco, M.S., interim executive director, Certification Programs. “Certification is a voluntary process and I commend St. Mary’s for successfully undertaking this challenge to elevate its standard of care and instill confidence in the community it serves.”

“With Joint Commission certification, we are making a significant investment in quality on a day-to-day basis from the top down,” said Titus Gambrell, St. Mary’s Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer. “Joint Commission certification provides us with a framework to take our organization to the next level. It helps us build our culture of excellence. Joint Commission certification in COPD is a major component of our commitment to maintain excellence and continually improve the care we provide.”

St. Mary’s maintains seven Joint Commission disease-specific certifications. In addition to COPD they are: Advanced primary stroke center, advanced inpatient diabetes care, heart failure care, total knee replacement, total hip replacement and spine surgery. St. Mary’s was the first hospital in Trinity Health and the second hospital in Georgia to be certified in COPD.

The Joint Commission’s Certification for COPD, developed in conjunction with the American Lung Association, provides standards for outpatient and ambulatory care settings related to:

  • Staff education requirements
  • The use of spirometry
  • Smoking cessation
  • Risk factor reduction
  • Patient education on self-management of COPD, and
  • Coordination of care.

St. Mary’s offers a comprehensive continuum of care for patients living with COPD, Johnson said, including emergency care, intensive care, routine inpatient hospital care, inpatient and outpatient diagnostics such as pulmonary function testing, home health care/hospice services, pulmonary rehabilitation, Freedom from Smoking program, and the Better Breathers Club.

According to the American Lung Association, symptoms of COPD include a cough that won’t go away, shortness of breath while doing everyday activities, blueness of the lips or fingernail beds, fatigue, coughing up mucus, and wheezing.

“Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in quality of life,” Johnson said. “The earlier we can detect COPD, the more we can do to prevent damage to the lungs and bronchial system. That means it’s very important that people who are at-risk get regular check-ups with their doctor and see a doctor as soon as possible if they start experiencing symptoms.”


About The Joint Commission

Founded in 1951, The Joint Commission seeks to continuously improve health care for the public, in collaboration with other stakeholders, by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value. The Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the United States, including hospitals and health care organizations that provide ambulatory and office-based surgery, behavioral health, home care, laboratory and nursing home services. An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. The Joint Commission has two nonprofit affiliate organizations: The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare aims to solve health care’s most critical safety and quality problems and Joint Commission Resources (JCR) provides consulting services, educational services and publications. Joint Commission International, a division of JCR, accredits and certifies international health care organizations. Learn more about The Joint Commission at