Patient care and recovery was on full display Tuesday at Community Medical Center, where several patients fresh out of surgery found their feet and took their first ginger steps toward recovery.

While talk of anterior hip replacements and post-operative care may be common in the hospital's orthopedic wing, another conversation has the staff riding high. They are, according to Becker's Hospital Review, the best at what they do in the state of Montana.

Lisa Sluder, a nurse practitioner and clinical director, credits Community's ranking as the leading hospital for total hip and knee replacement to its team approach to providing patient care before, during and after surgery.

“I think it's the passion we have for our patients,” Sluder said. “Not only from a job standpoint, but our staff really cares for the patients and they respond to that. It's a family feeling with the orthopedic staff, the physical therapy staff and pre-admission – it's just that team approach to their care.”

Early Tuesday morning, the orthopedic wing of the hospital had come to life. Physical therapists helped several patients take gentle steps toward full mobility after years of chronic joint pain.

Sluder, who has practiced nursing for 28 years, credits those therapists for the hospital's top ranking. The scoring measures include quality outcomes, complication rates, patient satisfaction and cost of care.

“The advances in technology, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery times and faster OR times result in decreased complications and infection rates,” Sluder said. “We have a very intense physical therapy and occupational therapy program. They're actually up walking the night of surgery.”

For a patient who has suffered debilitating pain due to a failing knee or hip, those first few steps can come with trepidation. The hospital works to reduce that anxiety through a detailed pre-admission plan and attention to patient needs after surgery.

“A lot of these patients have struggled with chronic pain for many years, and they have to sometimes learn how to walk correctly all over again,” said Sluder. “It can be a strenuous process, but our physical therapists are well trained to get them over that hump very quickly.”

Over the course of a year, Community performs more than 460 joint replacements, including total hip and knee. Recognition as the state's top hospital includes compliance with evidenced-based practices and its consistent success in treating its patient population.

The hospital's case managers and social workers are also key to the process and remain involved in a patient's post-operative discharge plans. As Sluder put it, “We don't just send them out the door and say good luck.”

“Pre-admission is so vital in the process – that's actually where the discharge plan starts, before the surgery,” Sluder said. “A lot of the elderly population don't have the means to get that walker, or the elevated toilet seat. We can alert social services before they ever come in to make sure they have the resources they need.”