• NIH’s Clinical Center: Patient Safety Concerns
  • August 14, 2017
  • The Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recognized worldwide as a leader in biomedical research. Thousands of patients come to the Clinical Center each year hoping to benefit from the kind of life-saving medical breakthroughs that have made it the flagship hospital of the NIH. Recently, however, a report found that the hospital suffered from low employee morale and ongoing patient safety concerns.

    According to the report, staff expressed concerns that patient safety was being affected by poor management, lack of accountability, and outdated equipment. In fact, some of the equipment was so old that replacement parts were no longer available. The report also revealed an issue with transferring patients from the NIH facility to another hospital. If a patient needs medical care that the Clinical Center cannot provide, it can take up to 45 minutes for an ambulance to get through NIH’s security.

    Research from 17 different NIH institutes take place at the Clinical Center, meaning that patients are participating in different research protocols. Therefore, it can be difficult to know which physician is medically responsible at any given moment. In addition, it can become confusing for staff when a patient’s medical condition changes, which can affect the treatment protocol.

    A previous report, known as the Red Team report, examined patient safety and found that there was an unintentional shift in culture from a patient safety-focus to meeting the high demand for research. The results of the Red Team report had a significant impact on employee morale due to the fact that many of the hospital staff felt that they had not been properly consulted. There was also a drop in the number of research patients receiving treatment, from 127 patients last year to 110 patients this year thus far.

    New Leadership Aims to Make Significant Improvements

    In response to the results of the Red Team report and low employee morale, NIH Director Francis Collins replaced the management team and indicated that there would be a renewed focus on oversight and patient safety. New positions of leadership were created, including a chief executive position, which was appointed to Major General James Gilman, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command in Fort Detrick, Maryland. In addition, Collins called on former U.S. Health and Human Services official, Stewart Simonson, to lead a series of focus groups on new and innovative ways to improve the Clinical Center.

    According to Simonson, despite concerns revealed in the report, the staff consider it an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Clinical Center, where breakthroughs in biomedical research are made every day. NIH officials have already begun to address communication issues and make immediate improvements to facilities in need of repair.

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