MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
There is no greater crossroad where art and science meet than the practice of medicine, and to ensure patients receive the best care possible, patient safety must be a top priority at every medical facility.
The medical profession has come a long way in the last century. Consider the Civil War, where more men died of infection and disease than in actual battle. Today, modern science has given medical practitioners the tools and medications to combat infection, prevent disease and in many cases, cure diseases that only decades ago would take numerous lives.
But as evidenced just two weeks ago, keeping patients safe is an ongoing battle as a deadly superbug emerged in California, killing two and possibly exposing more than 100 patients to the bacteria.
“That type of unexpected occurrence, which involves death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient, is known as a sentinel event,” said Lt. Saralinda Guzman Garcia, a nurse with Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point and patient safety manager. “Every doctor, nurse and hospital corpsman takes an oath to do no harm to our patients. But the challenge is making sure everyone in the health care process knows they not only have the right to speak up when they think a patient’s safety might be compromised, but also the responsibility to do so.”
As NHCCP’s patient safety manager, Guzman Garcia ensures processes and procedures keep patients safe, but she also spearheads NHCCP’s Patient Safety Awareness Week, a nationwide, annual education and awareness campaign, which runs March 8 through 14 this year. The theme of this year’s event is “United in Safety.”
“From the time a staff member begins working here at NHCCP, we emphasize patient safety is everyone’s concern, not just the medical practitioner,” said Guzman Garcia. “Whether you are the hospital corpsman taking vital signs, the clerk handling patient records or the facility manager ensuring the building is kept up to standards, everyone has a role in patient safety. Even something outside of the facility, like not getting enough sleep, can affect how we treat our patients. Patient safety is a lifestyle and culture we have to live every day.”
Guzman Garcia fosters NHCCP’s culture of safety by making daily rounds, speaking to staff and patients and listening to their feedback. She also facilitates all-hands monthly training to ensure patient safety is always the most important factor anytime a patient walks through the clinic’s doors.
But telling a young corpsman he or she has the responsibility to speak up when they see something that could compromise a patient’s safety, and having that corpsman actually do it, can be challenging.
“We use the acronym CUS, “I am concerned, I am uncomfortable, this is a safety issue!” We emphasize that every staff member can speak up about patient safety and that respectfully speaking up is never wrong. Finally, and this is probably the most important part, questioning the decisions or actions of someone with more authority in regard to patient safety is okay and there will not be repercussions, “ Guzman Garcia said.
Hospital corpsman Jake Jordan, a general duty corpsman assigned to NHCCP’s Medical Home Port Red Team, has no qualms about bringing up safety issues to leadership.
“I work for a captain who makes it very clear to us that if we have any questions or see something unusual, to bring it to his attention,” Jordan said. “He’s really good at explaining what and why he is doing something, and we meet to discuss what is going on with every patient before he actually sees them. He makes sure we know we can raise a safety issue with him and not worry about repercussions. He’s much more interested in teaching us and having us work as a team so the patient gets the best possible care.”
Guzman Garcia meets monthly with NHCCP’s safety committee, a group of more than 20 civilians and active-duty Sailors who ensure every department within the clinic keeps patient safety their top priority. As a group, they have lined up a series of events for Patient Safety Awareness week, including addressing the issue on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s local television show, which is broadcast in the surrounding community on a local access channel, as well as several events involving staff members and patients during the week itself.
“Patient Safety Awareness Week is only one part of the equation,” Guzman Garcia said. “Here at NHCCP, we constantly focus on patient safety. We have to earn our patient’s trust every single day, not just for one week.”