Safety as a core value: Former Memorial Hermann CEO on how to become a high reliability health system

Chuck Stokes, former president and CEO of Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System, detailed the health system's 11-year journey to becoming a high reliability health system at the Becker's Hospital Review CEO + CFO Roundtable Nov. 12 in Chicago. 

Memorial Hermann started focusing on quality after reports showed medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Mr. Stokes compared the number of avoidable deaths in hospitals to a 737 plane crashing every 5.5 hours. If that happened, Mr. Stokes said, airlines would shut down. So, that number of deaths should not be accepted in hospitals. 

According to Mr. Stokes, for Memorial Hermann — which is the busiest trauma department in the U.S. — safety is not just an important value, but the system's core value.

"We only talk about zero harm, 100 percent compliance," Mr. Stokes said. "Leadership behavioral expectations change when safety is the core value." 

Mr. Stokes said the six things that drive high reliability are: 

  • Vision
  • Trust, respect and inclusion
  • Board engagement 
  • Leadership development
  • Just culture
  • Behavior expectations

By focusing on safety and becoming a high reliability system, Memorial Hermann has received every national award for quality, according to Mr. Stokes.

Mr. Stokes was succeeded Sept. 1 by David Callender, M.D., MBA, as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System. 

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