Could there be any more meaningful work than health care? You wouldn't think so. And yet a number of recent surveys indicate that a worrisome proportion of both clinical and nonclinical hospital staff feel overworked and undervalued by their leadership.

How hospitals treat their employees and how that affects care delivery was a recurring theme at last month's National Patient Safety Foundation Congress.

Most hospitals have vision statements encased in Plexiglas and prominently displayed that declares, "Our staff are our most important resources," said Julianne M. Morath, R.N., chief quality officer at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Too often, those statements are merely "espousals without definitive actions," she said.

Morath is a member of the NPSF's Lucian Leape Institute. The Institute has identified five "transforming concepts" around patient safety: reforming medical education, integrating health care, consumer engagement, transparency, and "finding joy and meaning in work."

"It's a failure of leadership if everyone in the institution cannot say their job gives meaning to their lives," said Institute member Paul O'Neill. All employees—not just physicians and nurses—should understand how their work contributes to the success of the organization. "You need to explain to the people who clean the patients' rooms that if they don't do their jobs perfectly, the hospital can't deliver excellent care," said O'Neill, a former U.S. Treasury secretary.

It takes more than cheerleading, however. CEOs must encourage staff to speak up about everything from disruptive behavior to potential errors to new ideas that might improve processes. And, one NPSF attendee stressed, they have to mean it. "Get out of your office and meet with staff where they do their jobs. Actively listen and then demonstrate that you've seriously considered what's been brought up, either by acting on it or by explaining why you decided not to act on it."

O'Neill listed three major questions hospital staff members should ask about their jobs:

1. Am I treated with respect by everybody I encounter?

2. Am I given the education and training that allows me to contribute to this organization in a way that gives meaning to my life?

3. Am I recognized for what I do?

On the Generational Front …

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced this morning that it is awarding a five-year, $10 million grant for research on the use of communication and information technologies to improve health care for older adults. The grant aims to create a center of excellence that brings together research teams from various institutions in the aging network.

AHRQ said the research will focus on three broad themes:

  1. The use of IT to extend independence and functioning of older adults and reduce unnecessary health care utilization.
  2. The expansion of service networks that place individuals and their families at the center.
  3. The development of innovative approaches to translate evidence into practice.

The grant was awarded to David Gustafson and his team at the University of Wisconsin.