Event Examines Frontline Hospital Worker and Patient Safety

OCTOBER 26, 2012 - Georgetown University, through its Reflective Engagement Initiative, convened a daylong event at the U.S. Department of Labor to explore the relationship between frontline hospital worker safety and patient safety.

Representatives from academe, the federal government, hospitals, unions, and patient safety organizations participated in the Oct. 25 event. 

Co-sponsors included the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, the Service Employees International Union, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in collaboration with the Veterans' Health Administration Office of Public Health and The Joint Commission.

'Linked Outcomes'

“Previous work conducted to explore the relationship between worker safety and patient safety has primarily focused on nurses and physicians,” said event organizer Rosemary K. Sokas, MD, MOH, chair of the Department of Human Science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies and principal investigator of the Reflective Engagement Initiative grant.  “Research has demonstrated that safety climate and nurses’ working conditions predict both patient injuries and nurse injuries, supporting the premise that these may be linked outcomes.”

However, less attention has been paid to other members of the health care team, such as environmental service workers, nursing assistants, and ward clerks, she said.

Over 80 Participants

Over 80 participants – including frontline workers, patient representatives, hospital administrators, researchers, and policy leaders – explored whether engaging frontline health care workers in developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions to improve the safety climate may improve patient and worker outcomes.

David Michaels, PhD, MPH, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, kicked off the event with a morning welcome address.

The day featured four panel discussions that looked at worker, patient, and provider perspectives; a summary of current information on worker safety and patient safety; participatory approaches to building skills and career tracks among frontline workers; and policy implications. 

Break-Out Discussion

Seven break-out discussion groups addressed questions ranging from research gaps to data gathering to preventing slips, trips, and falls.

Kerry Eaton, RN, MS, senior vice president and COO for Sacred Heart Health Care System in Pensacola, Fla., delivered a concluding presentation, highlighting the importance of leadership development of every member of the health care team.

The discussion evolved to a clear understanding that all workers contribute to patient well-being and are part of the health care team, respect is a critical factor in work and in care delivery, and effective communication provides safety for reporting errors without fear of retaliation, Sokas said.

Georgetown Faculty

Jason Ormsby, PhD, MBA, MHSA, assistant professor of health systems administration at NHS, moderated the panel on policy implications.

“The nexus between worker safety and patient safety is still undefined, and this unique session provided incredible ideas and opportunities for synergy, collaboration and innovation,” he said.

Daniel J. Merenstein, MD, associate professor of family medicine and human science at Georgetown, co-led one of the discussion groups on creating a research agenda.  Picking up on a theme developed earlier in the workshop, one recommendation focused on creating a “person safety” agenda to include both patients and workers. In addition, Avram Mack, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, facilitated a session on workplace violence.

“The fusion of social justice, excellence, and contemplation in action energized workshop participants,” Sokas said.  “We now need to move forward in that spirit and identify the next steps for change.”

By Bill Cessato