Striving to be the safest hospital for patients and staff

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By Anne Kelly

St. Mary’s General Hospital’s vision is to be the safest and most effective hospital in Canada for patients and for staff.

The Kitchener hospital has consistently been recognized by the Canadian Institute for Health Information as having one of the top scores in Canada for Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio, a key measure of patient safety. St. Mary’s has also made great strides toward its goal of keeping staff safe with a comprehensive approach that engages staff and aligns with the Ministry of Labour’s “Safe at Work Ontario” strategy.  The enforcement strategy included inspections of all acute care hospitals over three years and focused on the most serious hazards in healthcare workplaces:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Exposures to hazardous biological, chemical and physical agents
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Worker contact with objects and/or being struck by objects
  • Workplace violence

“We are proud of our culture of safety and our staff led-efforts have been essential,” says Sherri Ferguson, Vice President of Quality, People and Performance. “Our recent staff engagement survey indicated that the overwhelming majority of our staff feel safe at work and we want to continue to build on that success.”

St. Mary’s use of Lean thinking for problem solving has been vital in addressing safety challenges and sustaining gains by drawing on ideas from front-line staff who implement them and track their effectiveness. Reducing blood and body fluid exposures and muskoloskeletal injuries have been hospital-wide priorities over the past several years. Staff led-improvements using Lean resulted in:

  • A reduction in the number blood and body fluid exposures from 45 to 34 (April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017)
  • A reduction in patient handling injuries from 30 to 18 (April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2017)

Much work has also been done on violence prevention. St. Mary’s has made significant investments to enhance its security services and to provide mandatory training for all staff over three years to help them manage resistive behaviours by patients, visitors and others.

In 2016 hospital leaders, staff and physicians participated in an extensive risk assessment for violence prevention, facilitated by our safety association. Progress on the assessment’s recommendations is reviewed monthly by St. Mary’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, which includes front-line staff.

Staff also sit on the hospital’s Violence Prevention Task Force created in 2008. At its monthly meetings, the committee reviews employee incidents and security reports to identify root causes and help develop risk prevention and management strategies. For instance, in 2017 the committee designed a risk assessment tool for staff to identify potentially aggressive patients. It facilitated distribution of highly visible signage throughout the hospital to highlight St. Mary’s zero tolerance approach to violence and harassment. The committee also oversaw a staff safety tagline contest in 2017 with submissions from more than 130 staff.

In 2017 St. Mary’s has also strengthened its health and wellness program by adding specialists in ability management to help employees return to work safely and in employee wellness to better serve the physical, emotional and mental health needs of staff.

Soon to come is a new employee health and safety management system that aligns with Ministry of Labour Accreditation.

Employee Mary Cupolo, a member of the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee says, “It is a testament to this organization that staff are front and cente in improving workplace safety. It means a lot to us that St. Mary’s strives not only to be the safest hospital for patients, but the safest for staff as well.”

Anne Kelly is Manager of Communications at St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener.