Fisher Transformed Expectations Related to Patient and Employee Safety

It's not enough to simply adhere to safety standards. All of us are called to 200-percent accountability to ensure there is zero harm to the kids we care for and to our staff.

Anyone who works with Michael Fisher knows that, while he sets the bar high, he doesn’t expect anything of his staff that he doesn’t expect of himself. That work ethic was modeled for him by his father, Mel, who used to say, “If you want the troops to march double time, you have to march double time.”

That philosophy holds especially true when it comes to safety.

Steve Muething, MD, chief quality officer for Cincinnati Children’s, has been at Fisher’s side throughout his tenure as president and CEO, and he can attest to the level of passion and commitment Fisher has consistently demonstrated in his leadership regarding safety.

“Michael Fisher exemplifies what a hospital CEO should do—he owns safety,” says Muething. “He set the expectation for himself that the organization he leads is constantly striving for zero—zero harm for kids, zero harm for staff—and he has stuck with that in such a meaningful way.”

As safety officer for 10 years, Muething had the unenviable job of notifying the CEO when something bad happens.

“It’s never a conversation you want to have,” he explains. “But Michael’s first reaction every time has been, ‘How is the patient? How is the family? How are the staff who were taking care of the child?’

“The same is true when a staff member is hurt. He asks, ‘How are they doing? Are they getting the help they need? How is the rest of the team? What can I do?’

“Michael’s commitment to safety is as strong today as it was when he started. He’s never wavered, never faltered. I’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of CEOs during their tenure, and maintaining that focus is hard because there are so many other demands and pressures. But Michael has persisted.”

Making Quality and Safety a Priority

Michael Fisher has been all about patient and employee safety since he became president and CEO. Here, he presents certificates to a graduate of I2S2, a course that teaches participants about improvement science and how to implement small tests of change to systems and processes in their areas.

Changing Pediatric Practice

In addition to his CEO role, Fisher has chaired Solutions for Patient Safety (SPS) since it was officially formed. This collaborative started out as a group of eight children’s hospitals in Ohio working together to share safety data and learn from each other. Fisher’s predecessor, Jim Anderson, was instrumental in organizing that effort. But under Fisher’s leadership, the network became its own nonprofit organization and expanded to 145+ children’s hospitals across the US and Canada.

At the time SPS was established, it was completely normal for hospitals to keep any information about patient harm to themselves for fear of damaging their reputation or getting in trouble, says Muething.

“As chair, Michael set a new standard that SPS member hospitals would not compete on safety. That mantra has changed pediatrics fundamentally, and we will never go back.”

Now, Muething says, hospitals are expected to share harmful events, as well as what they have done to mitigate them. “Under Michael’s leadership, frontline staff on up to CEOs and senior leaders are learning from each other and holding each other accountable to be transparent. It’s even spread to the hospital boards. None of this existed before Michael.”

Fisher has also differentiated himself from other healthcare leaders by promoting employee safety with the same rigor as patient safety. He introduced the idea of “SaferTogether,” which promotes mutual accountability among staff whenever there are safety concerns. The expectation is that every employee is responsible for speaking up when they see an unsafe situation and responding graciously when concerns are raised.

“Michael was one of the first hospital CEOs to embrace staff safety, and he encouraged the SPS hospitals to take that on as a goal, as well,” says Muething. “It seems so natural to talk about it now, but it was not the norm before Michael took it on.”

Several years ago, Fisher and his wife created the Michael and Suzette Fisher Family Chair for Safety. Muething, who is the first chair recipient, says he is forever grateful to them.

“Most people at Cincinnati Children’s have no idea about the extensive work Michael has done relative to safety because he’s so humble about it and he gives credit to everybody else. But I know it, and I deeply appreciate it. The fact that he and his family endowed a chair dedicated to safety—over and above his work as CEO—speaks volumes about his commitment. His legacy in this arena is true and lasting, and he has my utmost admiration and respect.”

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