Jan 18, 2019 Putting Safety First - Saint Barnabas Medical Center Reaps Top Awards for its Safety Measures


It’s an achievement to get straight-A ratings in safety from The Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog organization. It’s even more impressive to get top grades for 14 ratings periods in a row, and to be one of only 42 hospitals in the U.S. to do so.

The secret? Constant vigilance, according to Stephen P. Zieniewicz, FACHE, President and CEO of Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC). “In our culture, safety is our number one priority,” he says. “We talk about it all the time.”

What that means in practice: daily, weekly and monthly tracking of internal metrics and report cards—and listening to patients.


The Leapfrog Group rates hospitals on 28 measures relating to safety, including preventable errors, injuries and infections, and systems hospitals have in place to prevent mistakes. Rankings by hospital are published at www.hospitalsafetygrade.org.

“We monitor all the Leapfrog metrics and many others as well,” Zieniewicz says. (SBMC has received numerous other national awards, most recently the coveted Magnet recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.)

Every morning at 8:15, 20 or so hospital leaders participate in a 15-minute daily safety briefing. “We review what happened during the past 24 hours and anticipate what might happen in the next 24 hours,” Zieniewicz says. “Is a storm in the forecast? Is there a possibility of a shortage of a particular drug? The meeting allows us to resolve issues on the spot.”

In addition to those daily meetings, health professionals meet often to review specific areas of focus. “I regularly attend quality improvement and safety meetings to measure and monitor metrics,” Zieniewicz says.

Another key quality tool: checklists, for everything from putting an IV line in place to pre-surgery procedures in the operating room. “Checklists standardize what we’re doing and eliminate variations,” Zieniewicz explains. “They are an important tool that supports a culture of safety and high reliability.”

So, too, is celebrating wins. When a team achieves success in a particular area, they’ll receive recognition, including a handwritten thank-you note from the CEO.


How do patients feel about their SBMC experience? The medical center wants to know, and pursues the information in a variety of ways. “When a patient is admitted, the nurse and an interdisciplinary team conduct a thorough assessment. Then the nurse and staff continuously and proactively visit the patient throughout each day the patient is in the hospital,” Zieniewicz says. “In addition, nurse managers and nursing directors round on our patients. I do patient rounds.”

A nursing unit member reaches out to patients by phone after discharge, and a percentage of patients receives a survey to fill out. “We also have three patient and family advisory councils that meet quarterly, and are looking to create more,” Zieniewicz says.

“This is a team effort,” he emphasizes. “We’re all—both clinical and non-clinical staff—engaged at every level of the organization. Our Board of Trustees has been exceptionally supportive of our journey of high reliability.

“At all of our hospital entrances, the first thing patients and visitors see are posters providing reminders for hand hygiene by myself and my executive team. Patients recognize me as I walk throughout the hospital. And I say, ‘Thank you. Safety is our number one priority!’” Patients and staff can see that safety efforts begin at the top.

For more information about treatment and services at SBMC, visit our website.