Carl Vinson VA Medical Center Dental Hygienist Michelle Lord saw an opportunity to significantly reduce the rate of hospital-acquired pneumonia infections among VA’s residents and Veterans who are admitted to the medical center overnight.

Lord created a plan, received support from leadership, and is making it H.A.P.P.E.N., which stands for Hospital Acquired Pneumonia Prevention by Engaging Nurses.

She recently received VA’s national HeRO award as a result.

“Our dental team saw a need for improvement with oral hygiene among our Veteran residents and we created a plan that achieves several outcomes,” Lord said. “By working collaboratively with nurse managers, Veterans will be monitored and assisted with oral hygiene practices daily reducing the number of hospital-acquired pneumonia cases we report annually.”

In February 2021, the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center’s hospital-acquired pneumonia cases were six times higher than the national average. When the initiative was in the planning and development stages, the goal was to keep the cases below the 17-percent national average.

Dublin VA now reporting zero percent hospital-acquired pneumonia cases

Currently, Dublin VA has far exceeded that goal and reports zero percent hospital-acquired pneumonia cases.

The National HeRO Award is the highest level of HRO (High Reliability Organization) recognition available at VHA and is reserved to honor employees who advance VA’s journey to high reliability through demonstration of VA’s HRO principles in action.

The HRO steering committee votes quarterly to select one winner in each of five categories for a National HeRO Award.

“We are extremely proud of Michelle for this well-deserved honor along with our dental and nursing home staff for making the services we offer to our Veterans even better,” interim Medical Center Director Robert Reeder said. “Significant reduction in hospital-acquired pneumonia is a great goal, but improving our Veterans’ quality of life while providing their loved ones with peace of mind is priceless.”

High reliability

High reliability organizations operate in complex, high-hazard domains for extended periods without serious accidents or catastrophic failures. The concept of high reliability is attractive for health care, due to the complexity of operations and the risk of significant and even potentially catastrophic consequences when failures occur in health care.

The principles of high reliability go beyond standardization. High reliability is better described as a condition of persistent mindfulness within an organization. High reliability organizations cultivate resilience by relentlessly prioritizing safety over other performance pressures.

Reducing the number of hospital-acquired pneumonia cases is especially critical as the COVID-19 and Delta variant further exacerbate respiratory illnesses and infections.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but brushing your teeth and performing adequate oral care in a hospital setting could reduce significant complications and possibly save your life.

By James W. Huckfeldt Jr. is a public affairs specialist with the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center

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Published on Nov. 26, 2021

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