Attack on Hospital Staff Indicates Systematic Safety Issues

By ThinkReliability Staff

On July 13, 2015, a security counselor at a Minnesota psychiatric hospital was attacked and seriously injured by a patient. Even one injury to an employee is highly undesirable and should initiate a root cause analysis in order to reduce the risk of these types of events recurring. In the case of this hospital, this employee injury is one in a long line. In 2014, 101 staff injuries were reported at the hospital. From January to June of 2015, 68 staff injuries were reported. Clearly this is an extensive – and growing – problem at the site. According to Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for a union which represents 790 workers, “Workers at the security hospital feel like getting hurt has become part of the job description.”

An incident like this one can be captured within a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis. The first step in the method is to define the problem in a problem outline. The problem outline captures the what, when and where of an incident, as well as the impact to the goals. Another important piece of information that is included is the frequency of similar events. Capturing the frequency helps provide the scope of the problem.

Understanding the details for one specific incident will likely reveal systematic issues that are impacting other similar incidents. That is definitely true in this case. Beginning with an impacted goal and asking “why” questions results in developing cause-and-effect relationships. Each cause that is determined to have contributed to an issue can lead to a possible solution. Each cause added to the Cause Map provides additional possible solutions, which, when implemented, can reduce the risk of future similar incidents.

In this case, we begin with the employee safety goal. An employee was seriously injured because of an assault by a patient at the hospital. The assault resulted from two causes, which were both required and so are joined with an “AND”. First, violent patients are housed at the facility. There were no other facilities available for the patient and the hospital is required to admit mentally ill county jail inmates because of a Minnesota law (known as the “48 hour rule” because of the time limit on admissions).

Second, clearly there was inadequate control of the patient. According to the union, limitations on the use of restraints, which are only allowed when a patient poses an “imminent risk”, mean that staff members feel that they cannot restrain patients until after they’ve been threatened – or assaulted. The union also says that inadequate staffing is leading to the increase in assaults. Specifically, union officials say at least 54 more staff members are required for the facility to be fully staffed.

The issues have caught the attention of state safety regulators and government. Multiple solutions have already been incorporated, including use of cameras, a separate admissions unit for new patients and protective equipment for staff. Additional staff is also being hired. The patient involved in the attack is isolated and under constant supervision. There’s no word yet on whether the use of mobile restraints, as requested by the union, will be allowed.

Says Jaime Tincher, Chief of Staff for Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, “These are important first steps; however we will continue to assess what additional resources are needed to improve safety and treatment at this facility.” No less would be expected for ongoing issues that have such a significant impact on employee safety.

New study finds that cholera vaccine helps protect community

By Kim Smiley

There are an estimated 3 to 5 million cases of cholera worldwide each year, believed to cause more than 100,000 deaths annually.  Cholera is rare in developed nations, but has been pandemic in Asia, Africa and Latin America for decades.  Researchers continue to search for an effective method to prevent cholera outbreaks.  A recent study found that a cheap oral vaccine is an effective tool to help prevent the spread of cholera.  The vaccine is not a perfect solution, but the study found that when two-thirds of the population was given the vaccine, cholera infections in an urban slum were reduced by nearly 40 percent.

The problem of cholera infections can be analyzed by building a Cause Map.  A Cause Map is a visual root cause analysis that intuitively lays out the cause-and-effect relationships of the multiple causes that contribute to an issue.  A Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and documenting the answers in cause boxes.  To see how a Cause Map of this issue could be built, click on “Download PDF” above.

So why are so many people infected with cholera each year? Cholera is not generally passed from person to person and is predominantly spread through drinking water contaminated with cholera bacterium.  The feces of an infected individual carry cholera bacterium.  Cholera outbreaks occur in areas where there is a person infected with cholera in a location with poor sanitation infrastructure and inadequate water treatment.

Many efforts to reduce the number of cholera cases have focused on providing clean drinking water and providing sanitization equipment.  A recent study looked at three populations in Bangladesh: one was only given the vaccine, the second was given the vaccine, a hand-washing station and taught how to sterilize drinking water, and no intervention was done on the third population. The results showed that the vaccine alone was nearly as effective at preventing cholera as providing the vaccine along with a hand-washing station and instructions on sterilizing drinking water.  In the study, people were given two doses of the vaccine which costs about $3.70.

In an ideal world everyone would have access to clean, safe drinking water, but the resources required to build the needed infrastructure are not likely to be available any time in the near future.  Having a relatively cheap vaccine that is proven to slow the spread of cholera during an outbreak should prove to be a powerful tool in situations where access to clean water is limited.

How One Hospital Improved Heart Attack Care

By ThinkReliability Staff

The heart is responsible for pumping blood through the body, but it also requires blood flow to continue functioning. When the blood supply to the heart is cut off, it’s known as a heart attack and it can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 15% of people who have a heart attack will die from it. Time is of the essence when treating heart attacks. Again according to the CDC, “The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.”

Treatment to restore blood flow is generally a balloon (which pushes aside the blockage) and a stent (which holds the artery open). In the United States, this is performed in a hospital. Although hospitals can’t control the amount of time it takes to get a heart attack victim TO the hospital, they can control the time from when a patient enters the hospital until treatment is begun. This is known as the door to balloon (or D2B) time.

A national campaign to improve the speed of heart attack treatment was launched. At that time, the typical heart attack process went like this: a patient suffered a heart attack and (hopefully) 911 was called. An ambulance picked up the patient and delivered them to a hospital. Once the patient arrived at the hospital, an electrocardiogram (EKG) was taken and transmitted to a cardiologist, who determined whether or not the patient was suffering from a heart attack. If it was a heart attack, an interventional cardiologist and other members of the heart attack team were called and made their way to the hospital. The patient was taken through a consent and surgical prep process, and then then balloon and stent were installed. At this time, the national goal was for half of patients to receive a stent and balloon within 90 minutes of arrival at a hospital.

One of the hospitals to take up the challenge was Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in New Jersey. In 2007, heart attack treatment was on par or better than other hospitals, with half of patients treated within 93 minutes. (In many locations it took more than 2 hours.) By 2011, treatment time was down to 71 minutes. The head of the cardiovascular disease program challenged the staff to continue to decrease the time and staff members set up a “D2B task force”. This task force looked at each step in the process for potential improvements. Some individual steps were shortened. The forms required for consent were reduced as much as possible. The time spent individually calling in all the members of the cardiac care team was reduced by having a single call ring to all their pagers. Those on the team that were on call were limited to being 30 minutes away from the hospital.

Other steps, instead of being performed one after the other, were performed simultaneously. Instead of waiting for the patient to arrive at the hospital for an EKG, it is taken in the ambulance and transmitted to the emergency room. Each step required for surgical prep is performed as much as possible simultaneously by a team. Additionally, one surgical room is reserved for heart attack patients and is kept stocked with necessary supplies.

Now the median D2B time is 50 minutes. This was demonstrated on March 29, when a patient arrived at the medical center at 1:54 AM and whose D2B time was 55 minutes. This was unusually long for the center. What caused the difference? Because the patient was a 49-year-old woman with ambiguous symptoms, the emergency room doctor waited until the patient arrived at the hospital for another EKG to verify the heart attack before the heart attack team was called.

From 2003 to 2013 the death rate from coronary heart disease has fallen 38%. Some of this drop is attributed to better control of cholesterol and blood pressure, but some is surely due to quicker treatment at most US hospitals.

The “before” and “after” process map that shows the flow of heart attack treatment at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center can be diagrammed visually to show how the process flows. To view the process map, the problem outline and timeline of the treatment of the heart attack patient on March 29, 2015, please click on “Download PDF” above. Or click here to read more.

Cuba Eliminates Transmission of HIV from Mother to Child

By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Cuba eliminated. Clearly, this is fantastic news. Says Dr. Margaret Chen, WHO Director-General, “Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible. This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.” The fight against HIV continues, with a global target of less than 40,000 new child infections per year by 2015.   (In 2013, there were 240,000 children born with HIV worldwide.) It’s hoped that the progress made in Cuba can be extended to the rest of the world.

How did Cuba do it? Root cause analysis can be used to determine causes of positive impacts as well as negatives. Here we will use a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, to determine the causes that resulted in Cuba being declared free of MTCT of HIV. Instead of defining the “problem” in a problem outline, we will define the success using the same format. In this case, the elimination of transmission of HIV from mother to child is the success we’ll be looking at. This success impacts goals as well, though positively. The child safety goal is impacted because it is now very rare (only 2 in 2013) for children to receive HIV from their mothers. The maternal safety goal is impacted because mothers are receiving effective treatment for HIV. Other goals are impacted because of the decreased need for services for children who might otherwise have been infected with HIV.

Beginning with an impacted goal, we can ask Why questions. Why is it rare for children to receive HIV from their mothers? Because the risk of passing HIV from mother to child has been lessened. Why? Because when children are born to HIV-infected mothers, there is decreased exposure to infants from their mother’s bodily fluids, and both mothers and children are being treated effectively for HIV. Decreased exposure to bodily fluids has been accomplished by the use of Cesarean sections and substitution for breastfeeding. Effective HIV treatment results from awareness of the presence of HIV infection from testing performed by healthcare providers, seen as part of a five-year initiative that gave universal healthcare coverage and access. That same access allowed treatment for infected moms and their children with antiretrovirals.

Although this Cause Map is presented as a positive impact to the goals, it could also be presented as an analysis of the problem of HIV transmission from mother to child. The causes would be baby’s exposure to mom’s body fluids, and lack of effective treatment due to lack of knowledge of infection and/or lack of access. The solutions to that Cause Map are the causes presented here in the positive Cause Map. (For example, use of Cesarean sections and substitutions for breastfeeding are solutions to the cause of baby being exposed to mom’s body fluids.)

In order to receive validation from WHO of the elimination of MTCT of HIV, Cuba had to meet very specific indicators for a defined period of time. These indicators do not just measure the overall success of the program (impact indicators), but also measure the success of the initiatives meant to achieve those goals (process indicators). Impact indicators included reducing MTCT of HIV to less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births, less than 5% in breastfeeding populations, and less than 2% in non-breastfeeding populations for at least 1 year. Process indicators included more than 95% of all pregnant women receiving at least one antenatal visit, more than 95% of pregnant women knowing their HIV status, and more than 95% of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral drugs for at least 2 years.

With implementation of similar initiatives across the world, it is hoped that MTCT of HIV will continue to decrease rapidly.

To view the outline, Cause Map, and indicators, click on “Download PDF” above. Click here to read the release from the WHO.

U.S. Teen Dies from Plague

By Kim Smiley

Few people think of the plague as a present-day problem, but a teen boy died of the plague on June 8, 2015 in Colorado.  Officials believe he was bitten by a flea carrying the disease on his family’s farm although the exact source of exposure isn’t known. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of seven cases of plague in the United States a year and a small percentage of these cases result in death.

A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built to analyze this case and better understand how a patient died of the plague.  The first step in building a Cause Map is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information to define the issue.  The Outline includes a place to list the impacts to the goals resulting from an issue to help define the scope of the problem.  Focusing on the safety goal for this example, a death would be an obvious impact.  Next, “why” questions are used to build the Cause Map.

So why did the teen die from the plague?  There are two causes that contributed to his death; first, he was infected with the plague and second, he wasn’t treated for the plague.  When there are two causes that both contribute to an issue, both are listed vertically on the Cause Map and separated by an “and”.  So why was the patient exposed to the plague?  Officials believe that he was bitten by an infected flea.  The bacteria that causes plague lives in rodents and their fleas.  Investigators haven’t been able to identify which species of rodent was the culprit.

The teen wasn’t treated for plague because it wasn’t identified that he had the plague until it was too late.  All forms of plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but the window for treating the illness before it becomes life-threatening can be relatively short and plague can be difficult to identify.  It is suspected that this patient had septicemic plague which occurs when the plague bacteria enter the bloodstream directly.  Septicemic plague is caused by the same bacteria as the more common Bubonic plague, but the symptoms are different and more difficult to identify.  Rather than the telltale presence of swollen, discolored lymph nodes (also known as buboes) caused by the Bubonic plague, the main symptoms of the septicemic plague are fever, chills and abdominal pain which are very similar to the flu and other common illnesses.  In this heart-breaking case, the family of the teen understandably believed he had the flu and he wasn’t treated for the plague in time to prevent his death.

As alarming as this case is, it is important to note that plague cases in the United States are very rare and occur primarily in two regions – northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado and California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada. If you are planning to enjoy the outdoors in one of these areas, just remember that the best way to prevent plague is to prevent flea bites.

Click on “Download PDF” above to see a Cause Map and Outline for this example.