Advocates walk for awareness in Newport Beach ahead of World Patient Safety Day
One by one, they carried little orange flags in hand and an orange cord — tied off with knots, each exactly 8 feet and 4 inches apart from the last — in their opposite hand.
Bikers rode past with surfboards in tow, some runners pausing to ask what was happening. What were they walking for in Newport Beach?
Neighbors on the residential side of East Balboa Boulevard leaned over low walls, some peering from their lawn furniture as one woman, her hair dyed orange for the occasion, offered a good morning to curious onlookers with an addendum — “We’re walking for patient safety.”
Staff and volunteers from the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, a nonprofit based in Irvine that focuses on eliminating preventable deaths from medical errors, walked from Balboa Pier to Newport Pier on Tuesday morning in an effort to raise awareness ahead of World Patient Safety Day, which is on Thursday.
The World Health Organization announced World Patient Safety Day in 2019 with its first celebration last September. The theme last year was “Patient Safety: a global health priority” and its slogan was “Speak up for patient safety” to promote open communication of errors and to emphasize the importance of patient safety.
This year’s theme, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, was “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety.”
WHO defines patient safety as “the absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of healthcare and reduction of risk of unnecessary harm associated with healthcare to an acceptable minimum.” The organization states up to four out of every 10 patients are harmed in primary and ambulatory care globally.
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The most detrimental of these errors are related to diagnosis, prescription and the use of medicine.
“We knew this was a public awareness issue, not just an issue we could solve by continuing to work with hospitals,” said Ariana Longley, the CEO for the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, as she prepared to lead the walk Tuesday.
Longley said the organization worked with hospitals, healthcare organizations and healthcare administrators to implement processes to prevent medical errors, but added that she felt it was important to also raise awareness with the public on the issue.
“If the public doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t know how to advocate for themselves, doesn’t know what to ask for, doesn’t know how to speak up,” she said. “Then, we’re only dealing with half of the issue, so we felt public awareness was really, really important to solve the issue more completely.”
Organization for the walk started in July 2019, but the campaign has morphed and pivoted from its original conception as the pandemic continued, said Monica McDade, the campaign director for the Patient Safety Movement Foundation.
McDade said that the walk was the first outward facing campaign by the organization to the public and that initial organizing for the #UniteForSafeCare campaign was focused on lobbying for greater transparency and aligned incentives for hospitals, as well as a patient safety oversight board to hold people accountable.
McDade said she was a survivor of medical error. When she was trying to get diagnosed for breast cancer in her early 30s, she said her physician dismissed her concerns. She said she had to push for a mammogram, ultrasound, needle biopsy and surgical biopsy.
“I found the lump in May 1994,” McDade said. “I wake up, Nov. 1, 1994, [and they’re like], ‘Oops, sorry. We’re wrong. You have a malignant tumor. You’re Stage 3 cancer.’ Gee, thanks so much. Oops? What do you mean oops? There’s no oops in diagnosis. Nobody goes into the medical profession to hurt anyone.”
“My mom was a nurse, my step-mom was a nurse, but to err is human and people are working ridiculous hours, not given proper training, sometimes not given proper equipment as we’ve seen,” she added. “Health worker safety is just as important as patient safety because the health workers are now patients.”
Participants wore shirts that read “We’re all patients” and “Unite for safe care.” Longley said that the walk was not widely advertised to the public in a conscious effort to be mindful of the pandemic.
At the end, people placed orange flags — orange, being the color for patient safety and the flags, symbolic of lives lost as a result of preventable medical errors, some with names and others without — in the sand and took a moment of silence.
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Netania Le, an administrative coordinator from Placentia, said that she joined the organization because she was passionate about bettering the healthcare system. Le said she really wanted to help support the movement in any way that she could, adding that the upcoming World Patient Safety Day would be a good opportunity to bring more attention to the organization’s cause.
“I think participating in the walk is a powerful way to show that you care about the issue and to really make a statement about patient safety and bring that to the public,” Le said, “and just let the public know as much as they could as possible.”
For volunteer Marlene Vollbrechthausen, the walk was important enough to her that she and her mother drove up from San Diego. She said she grew up with doctors in an environment of medicine.
“My mom is a volunteer and she introduced me to how big patient safety is an issue and how we need to amend it,” Vollbrechthausen said. “We go to the hospital because we think we’re going to be safe. You trust the hospital, so you want [the hospital] to fulfill the trust. To me, that’s very important. When I go to the hospital or when my family goes to the hospital, I want to trust that they are receiving the best care they can.”
“We have to take action. We can’t just sit and hope other people to do it,” she said. “You have to do it yourself in hopes of inspiring other people to do it and bring awareness.”
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