Over the past two years, chief quality officers were thrust from often-underfunded and non-revenue-generating safety improvement work to driving how their hospitals would handle a significant healthcare crisis.
Quality departments—and their leaders—became stars. Hospital C-suites suddenly leaned on quality and safety infrastructure in a way they hadn’t before, because chief quality officers are trained to experiment, observe the results and make changes quickly.
Hospitals needed those skills, and safety officers coached operational heads to implement high-stakes transformations during the pandemic, including quickly shifting all care to virtual settings and setting up large-scale vaccine clinics in parking lots and hospital lobbies.
“In some ways, (the pandemic) actually accelerated my leadership journey, and in other ways, I think it’s hampered it, because I couldn’t turn my attention to some of the (quality and safety) things because I’ve been the chief COVID-19 face for the past two years,” said Dr. David Priest, chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer at Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Novant Health. “Before, all my time could be totally focused on safety and quality, but COVID-19 is this layer over everything.”
Analysis and action
Quality officers are trained to effect change. They analyze a large amount of patient and clinician data to suss out which departments are providing ineffective care or harming patients. Then they play a careful dance of gaining physician and nurse buy-in to alter practices.
As the pandemic started, New Jersey-based CarePoint Health’s Bayonne Medical Center faced the common problem of having very limited information on which COVID-19 treatments were effective. The hospital’s director of quality resources, Mary Jo O’Donnell, used in-house data to determine treatment efficacy, and reviewed where safety events were increasing or decreasing.