There have been disturbing reports of hospitals firing doctors and nurses for speaking up about inadequate PPE. The most famous case was at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph hospital in Washington, where Dr. Ming Lin was let go from his position as an ER physician after he used social media to publicize suggestions for protecting patients and staff. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, a nurse, Lauri Mazurkiewicz warned colleagues that the hospital’s standard face masks were not safe and brought her own N95 mask. She was fired by the hospital. These examples violate a culture of safety and endanger the lives of both patients and staff. Measures that prevent healthcare workers from speaking out to protect themselves and their patients violate safety culture. Healthcare workers should be expected to voice their safety concerns, and hospital executives should be actively seeking feedback from frontline healthcare workers on how to improve their institution’s Covid-19 response.
Share power with frontline workers
According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, it is common for organizations facing a crisis to assume a power grab in order to maintain control. As such, it is not surprising that some hospitals are implementing draconian policies to prevent hospital staff from speaking out. While strong leadership is important in a crisis, it must be balanced by sharing and even ceding power to frontline workers. All hospitals want to provide a safe environment for their staff and high-quality care for their patients. However, in a public health emergency where resources are scarce and guidelines change daily, it’s important that hospitals have a systematic approach to keep up.
Every day, a 727 jetliner crashes and kills all the people on board.
Not really. But every day in America, the same number of people in American hospitals lose their lives because of preventable errors. They don’t die from their disease. They are killed because of hospital acquired infections, medication errors, procedural errors, or other problems that reflect the poor design of how work is done and care is delivered.
Imagine what we as a society would do if three 727s crashed three days in a row. We would shut down the airports and totally revamp our way of delivering passengers. But, the 100,000 people a year killed in hospitals are essentially ignored, and hospitals remain one of the major public health hazards in our country.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’d like to suggest that one reason is a terrible burden that is put upon doctors during their training and throughout their careers. They are told that they cannot and should not make mistakes. It is hard to imagine another profession in which people are told they cannot make mistakes. Indeed, in most professions, you are taught to recognize and acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them. The best run corporations actually make a science of studying their mistakes. They even go further and study what we usually call near-misses (but perhaps should be called “near-hits.” ) Near-misses are very valuable in the learning process because they often indicate underlying systemic problems in how work is done.
If you are trained to be perfect, it is very hard to improve.
The Sunlight Foundation today gave us a fascinating first peak at the hospital safety data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was finally convinced to release the information after years of stonewalling by the American Hospital Association. For the first time, the public can compare less-than-stellar performance at competing local hospitals on key indicators like catheter or urinary tract infections or bed sores.
As their story points out, the data only cover about 60 percent of hospitals since many states, like Maryland, failed to cooperate with the voluntary CMS program. They also caution that any comparison of the raw numbers must take into account the numerous confounding variables that can make one hospital look more slipshod in its practices than another. Some hospitals take in many more older and poorer patients, who are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions that make them prone to complications during their hospital stays.
Yet as Arthur Levin of the Center for Medical Consumers, a New York-based advocacy group, pointed out, “”I think it’s fair (to release the data) as long as everybody agrees on what the limitations are, and what the caveats are. There are those who say this data isn’t ready for prime time and public review. If we waited for perfection, we wouldn’t have anything out there.”Continue reading…