Engaging Staff in Patient Safety

How St. Mary Medical Center Achieved 92 Percent Participation on its 2016 Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture

In 2015, St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart experienced an 85 percent response rate to its Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture. After receiving such a great response rate, many organizations might be content to coast. Not St. Mary.

The hospital doubled down on its strategies to engage staff in patient safety efforts, driving the participation rate in 2016 to 92 percent—one of the highest percentages in the state. In addition, 19 departments across the hospital achieved 100 percent participation from their employees.

“Our hospital values patient safety, and it proliferates through our daily activity and strategic projects,” says Janice Ryba, CEO of St. Mary. “We constantly reinforce the belief that patient safety is everyone’s responsibility in both clinical and non-clinical areas.”


“Join the Force … to Support Patient Safety.” So reads a series of Star Wars-themed posters hanging on the walls throughout the hospital. The posters were a novel way to encourage employees to complete the survey. In addition, St. Mary placed a survey link on the hospital’s intranet home page, embedded it in hospital-wide email communications and distributed a letter penned by Ryba explaining the importance of employee participation in the survey.

While these communication initiatives kept the survey on employees’ radars, the St. Mary team provided increased access to computers—even setting up a few in the cafeteria—so that everyone had an opportunity to fill out the survey.

Once employees completed the survey they received a sweet treat and a raffle ticket for a drawing for a gift card. But Ryba believes employees at St. Mary participated for a much greater reward: the knowledge that their feedback would enable the hospital to serve its patients better.

“Raffles and sweet treats are great incentives, but at the core of almost every employee in health care is the desire to help or improve the lives of others,” Ryba says. “We encourage our team to lead by example and share any ideas for improvements. And they have.”

The St. Mary team made it a point to not only encourage employees to complete the survey, but also to share the hospital’s successes and wins from past patient safety efforts.

“I conduct quarterly, hospital-wide town hall meetings, and all staff are invited to attend,” Ryba says. “There, I can personally communicate our improvements, emphasize why we are constantly striving to improve patient safety and explain how each of us contributes to providing a safe environment.”


One of the areas for improvement St. Mary identified following the 2015 survey was improving handoffs and transitions when moving patients between different departments throughout the hospital. In order to increase teamwork between the units, St. Mary offered shadowing opportunities to all employees.

“Traditionally, the ER frequently works closely with the ICU,” says Tammie Jones, D.N.P., RN, chief nursing officer. “We had someone from the ER shadow someone from the ICU for a day to gain a different perspective on the patient experience and vice versa. We offered that shadowing opportunity to all units working closely together.”

As a direct result of the shadowing program, Pete Dyba, director of imaging services; Robert Nelson, director of laboratory services; and Michelle Meyer, director of pharmacy services, have developed action plans for improving patient safety in their respective areas.

In addition to overseeing the shadowing program, Jones has done some shadowing of her own.

“I’ve put on scrubs twice in the past year to shadow a nurse and see what operational changes I can make to provide a better work environment that’s safer for our patients,” she says. “That’s something I plan to continue to do into the future.”


“Participating in the survey has strengthened our continued commitment to patient safety,” Jones says. “It helps that our CEO is an outstanding leader who truly is committed to quality and service. Anything that we’ve brought to her that we know is going to improve quality she’s supported 100 percent.”

“Looking ahead, it is critical we remain diligent in our efforts to review action plans and measure our improvements,” Ryba says. “The momentum is in place to continue to improve as long as we are measuring outcomes.”

St. Mary will continue to use the Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture as a driving force in its patient safety efforts.

“Our employees are excited to see the survey reappear each year,” Ryba says. “We strive to incorporate the suggestions of our staff into our operations. It’s a vital method to improve and ensure we provide the very best care.”


  • Spend time planning the survey rollout
  • Ensure your leadership team is engaged
  • Choose an ambassador for each unit who has a passion for patient safety
  • Make the survey easily accessible through multiple sources
  • Make it fun
  • Measure response rates during the survey
  • Frequently communicate updates
  • Celebrate your success


IHA administers the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture at no cost to members. IHA collects the responses of the online survey and develops a detailed analysis of each organization’s culture as it relates to patient safety.

Survey participants are asked about their opinions regarding patient safety issues, medical error/event reporting and organization-wide communication following events. Through the AHRQ survey, hospital leaders can:

  • Gain insight into the perception of employees and physicians on the culture of patient safety within their hospital
  • Set baselines in advance of a new safety initiative
  • Compare their results to hospitals across Indiana and around the U.S. by location, bed size, case mix and peer group
  • Identify the specific challenges their organization faces in implementing improved patient safety practices
  • Measure whether new programs are effective and the return on investment in improved safety practices

Ready to get started? Contact Cynthia Roush at croush@IHAconnect.org to set up a survey for your organization.