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1,000 Days of Patient Safety: 97th MDG Achieves Healthcare Excellence

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jeremy Wentworth
  • 97 AMW PA

The 97th Air Mobility Wing Medical Group celebrated 1,000 days without operational errors. In the medical world, this is a significant accomplishment, as it can mean the difference between life and death. 1,000 days without an incident is 1,000 days without a serious safety event.

“If medical error was a disease, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States,” said Mark Smithwick, the patient safety program manager at the 97th Medical Operations Squadron. “A serious safety event is when a clinic breaks a process that causes harm to a patient.”

Going 1,000 days without a serious safety event is not a common occurrence.

“Fifteen percent of serious safety events happen in a small clinic like on Altus AFB,” said Smithwick. “I had asked the Air Force Medical Operation Agency if anyone had hit 1,000 days, but all I could find is people celebrating 500. I’m not saying it hasn’t been hit before, but I’ve yet to see it.”

Though the MDG celebrated the milestone, the team emphasized this is simply a result of what they strive to do every day.

For our medical staff, being responsible for the health and mission readiness of the Airmen of the 97th Air Mobility Wing is their priority.

“It’s a side effect of the work we do as a team,” said Smithwick.

For Lt. Col. Janet Blanchard, commander of the 97th MDOS, it was an opportunity to congratulate the Airmen in the group.

“Today is a day where we can celebrate the milestone that the team has met,” said Blanchard. “It’s important to not forget the goal when you hit the milestone. We’re recognizing that now we have to keep up that teamwork and attention to detail.”

Blanchard and Chief Master Sgt. Justin Helin, the 97th MDG superintendent visited eight different offices to congratulate the Airmen who took part in the achievement. While visiting their workplaces, they reaffirmed the Airmen’s contributions to the success and their individual roles in getting there.

“Everyone knew how they contributed to taking care of the patients,” said Smithwick. “They could visualize how their hard work pays off.”

According to Blanchard, this achievement was not by chance. It was accomplished by dedication and innovation of the Airmen in their jobs.

“Teamwork and communication is the key,” said Blanchard. “It sounds simple but that’s what it is. We have safety huddles every morning and that communication at the group level prevents things from falling through the cracks.”

When something does fall through the cracks, there are systems in place to learn from it.

“We focus on our failures,” said Blanchard. “When there’s a minor error, we focus on it and look at what went wrong without pushing blame. We learn from the small mistakes so we don’t make big ones.”

While the 1,000 day mark was a day of celebration, it is not the end goal for the medical group.

“Each flight is a gear, and we have to work together every day to continue our goal of zero harm,” said Blanchard. “Zero harm, that’s always the goal.”

Blanchard said it is a continued partnership with patients and providers that creates this success. Without that cooperation, the goal would be unattainable.

“The teamwork isn’t just in the medical buildings,” said Blanchard. “The biggest teamwork is with our patients. We hope patients recognize that part of being healthy is sharing information with us and sharing what we can do better.”

The quality of providers on Altus AFB is evident to the supervisors and leadership of the medical group, especially after earning the commendable achievement of 1,000 days without a safety mishap.

“I’m amazed at the quality of staff we have here and the quality of Airmen that come through this place,” said Smithwick. “Any base that gets an Airman that started their career in the 97th MDG at Altus AFB is incredibly lucky.”