Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 24, 2014

Hospital tour steadies course, makes pass through security

ASHLAND — In Sunday’s Independent, King’s Daughters Medical Center president and chief executive officer Kristie Whitlatch escorted an Independent reporter and photographer to several hospital departments that normally are off-limits to outsiders.

Her stated goal: to de-mystify an institution where most people are born and where some go to die — in her words, “people have some of their happiest moments here, like when babies are born, and some of their saddest moments too.”

A hospital, she believes, should not be an alien environment; rather, it should be a place patrons can approach knowing competent, caring and compassionate treatment are in store.

Sunday’s story took readers to the cath lab, intensive care, sterile supplies and food service departments. The tour continues today in security.

Finding ways to help

The tour almost goes off track when, in the hallway near the emergency room complex, Whitlatch spies a woman headed her way. The woman’s steps falter and her eyes scan signs and doorways.

Whitlatch pauses to ask her what she’s looking for and offers to guide her to her destination, the nearby heart and vascular waiting area.

Her assistant, Tom Dearing, steps in and escorts the woman. Such interventions are a new norm at King’s Daughters, where one hallway looks much like another to those unfamiliar with its layout. “Wayfinding” is the term she has coined. Volunteers and hospital personnel remain alert for the signs a patron is lost or confused and make a point of offering to help, she said.

“If we are really busy and there is something I can do to help patients, I’ll help,” the former nurse said.  A few weeks ago when flu cases were at their height and the hospital was at full capacity, she bathed patients, helped transport them and did other jobs.

Whitlatch said she discovered as a teen that health care was her mission in life. While a student at Boyd County High, she assumed she would go into business. But her grandfather was in intensive care for a week and she spent her spare time visiting, and at the end of the week she knew nursing was her future.

Her mother died in her 50s after battles with heart disease and stroke, further cementing Whitlatch’s commitment. “You just end up where you’re supposed to be,” she said.


Like the small city to which King’s Daughters is compared, hospitals are by their nature concentration points for hundreds of people in various stages of stress. There are large quantities of drugs and highly valuable, highly delicate machinery.

Pedestrians, automobiles, ambulances and trucks criss-cross the network of streets and sidewalks on the medical center complex.

It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

With hundreds of rooms and probably miles of corridors, King’s Daughters could be a nightmare to protect.

When Whitlatch knocked on the door of the first-floor security operations center, security technician John Miller ushered visitors into a dazzling control room of ceiling-high flat-screen arrays, 12 of them on the front wall and eight each on the two side walls.

Each showed a different view from around the hospital or one of its satellite facilities.

King’s Daughters’ 20 security professionals are assisted by more than 700 cameras that feed images to the screens.

With a joystick and the punch of a button or two, Miller can choose a camera view, pan, tilt and zoom. If he needs to he can focus on a license plate in the parking lot, and in the dark he has infrared technology to assist him.

The same system monitors the hospital’s urgent care and family care centers.

Among its features is an infant abduction system. Infant wristbands are electronically connected to the system and if removed without authorization will trigger alarms and other security measures.


Biopsies are a common procedure in which physicians examine tissue samples for signs of disease. One way a specimen is evaluated is visually, under a microscope.

In the King’s Daughters lab, histology technician Susie Maze demonstrated how she prepares a lump of tissue for microscopic viewing.

The sample first is encased in wax. Then they use a microtome, a tabletop device that slices it into thin sheets like a grocer slices cheese in the deli department.

The typical specimen thickness is four microns. A micron is a thousandth of a meter.

Maze slips the specimen slice onto a glass slide; next the wax is dissolved and stain applied to bring out the visual details.

The lab’s pathologist analyzes it and decides whether more specimens are needed.

Among the tissues the lab works with are gall bladder, breast, kidney and brain.

Boiler room

A city requires a power plant, and the plant at King’s Daughters contains four boilers the size of tanker trucks that generate steam for heat and for sterilization purposes.

When you walk into the first-floor plant, the roar you hear is the gas burners heating the water to steam, director Tom Hack said.

Around the corner are half a dozen air conditioning units that cool enough air for 1,100 average suburban houses.

Digital electronic controls allow technicians to adjust the units for peak efficiency.

Recently installed is a 2,100-gallon auxiliary water tank for use when city water service is interrupted. It was filled and refilled constantly during the recent city water crisis.

The future of KDMC

Outside the plant, Whitlatch pauses until the doors close and muffle the roar of the boilers.

What made her want to display the inner workings of King’s Daughters, her visitor asks.

The answer is that it is the hospital’s physical complexity that makes the task of providing top-notch health care equally complex.

“We have to support all this but also make health care more affordable,” she said. It is a task that is ever-changing and always transforming. “It’s like a ballet,” she said.

“I wanted people to see King’s Daughters through the eyes of its team members,” she said. “Regardless of their department, people are really passionate about what they do here,” she said.

“We’re in there to serve patients and we’re in there to serve the community.

“What it will take to keep people healthy is not something I am going to do.

“It’s something we are going to do.”

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.


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