Making Patient Safety #1

Health workers at Baylor Scott & White Health taking a knee in support of #whitecoatsforblacklives

Letter from the Chairman, June 2020

Health workers at Baylor Scott & White Health taking a knee in support of #whitecoatsforblacklives

Dear Readers,

Just when we thought that we may be entering a more manageable COVID-19 pandemic era, with some restrictions easing up, businesses re-opening, and the economy picking up, the unthinkable happened. We are confronted with the loss of a Black life by the restraint technique used by a Minneapolis police officer, and its national and even global aftershocks.

The victim, George Floyd, knew he was dying; the police officers watching this event likely realized what was happening, but did nothing to prevent the loss of life.

As a result, we are all struggling to cope with not only the impact of a global pandemic, but also, the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. The expected demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd were often violent, destroying businesses that were already trying to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, and injuring many — both police and demonstrators.

However, out of this very disturbing and distressing turn of events, we saw powerful actions and words that made a difference, helping our nation heal and move forward.

We saw the brother of George Floyd address the crowd and ask for peaceful demonstrations — calling for an end to the violence that was occurring in the name of his deceased brother. This statement, the voice of one man, had the powerful effect of bringing reason and peace back to the streets.

Sadly, here in Dallas, we have also dealt with the consequences of police actions. A few months ago, a young, female police officer was found guilty of murder for shooting her black neighbor, Botham Jean. In the courthouse, the victim’s brother offered forgiveness to the officer.  He hugged the officer and gave her a Bible — again, a single person defusing a potentially very serious situation outside the courthouse where people were gathered. The compassionate actions of Botham Jean’s brother show that one person who is brave enough can do so much.

What happened in Minneapolis relates to public safety, not patient safety, but in my last newsletter, I stated that we were all becoming patients as a result of the pandemic.  Maybe we can apply some of our patient safety measures to public safety?

We need healing in our community, and as leaders in safety, the medical community can lead the way to close the divide in the community. We must treat everyone with compassion, dignity and equality of care. However, COVID-19 is killing minority populations at a disproportionate rate — so it is clear that we have more work to do!

Like our healthcare system, our public safety officers must become a High Reliability Organization where everyone can be relied upon to do the right thing. Just as in the hospitals, if someone is perceived to be making an error, all are empowered to call for a “Time Out”. Discrimination and racism have no place in health care — or anywhere. The United States must lead the world in equality, justice, honesty and safety. 

Our commitment to eradicate biases in healthcare stands stronger than ever. Systemic racism, injustice, and inequality have no place in our hearts, our organization, our healthcare system,  our country, or our world.

ZERO preventable deaths and harm remains our mission, and extends beyond hospital walls. We will fight until every patient, health worker, and person feels safe, and receives appropriate care, no matter what their ethnicity. 

Patient Safety is Public Safety! Let’s bring the principles that we have learned with the Patient Safety Movement to the greater public arena: Transparency, Communication, Honesty, Integrity, and Leadership.

On a much more positive note, our CEO, David Mayer, has completed his 10-day, 125-mile walk to raise awareness about the patient and healthcare worker safety crisis. The walk generated attention from the media and was profiled in local TV news. Carole Hemmelgarn and Vonda Vaden Bates, who both lost loved ones due to preventable harm, walked with David on the last four days of his journey. David’s wife, Cathy, walked 80% of the way — the rest of the time, she was transporting supplies, cooking, and handing out fluids!

Stay safe! We are all in this together, and we will find solutions to these important problems.

Mike Ramsay, M.D.
Chairman, Patient Safety Movement Foundation
President, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, Dallas, TX