Culture of Safety Embodies Work of Dana Bjarnason

After joining OHSU last year, she’s embraced an Institute of Medicine report on the future of nursing and helped secure a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to strengthen the work of the Oregon Health Coalition.

Creating a culture of safety for patients at OHSU lies at the heart of Dana Bjarnason, who became inspired after hearing a talk by Sully Sullenberger.

If the airline industry was performing at the same level as the health industry, 20 large aircraft would be falling out of the sky every week with no survivors, Sullenberger, an aviation safety expert and accident investigator, told the 3,000 nurses gathered at the American Association of Nurse Executives two years ago.

‘When he asked us, what are you doing?’ “That was my sobering moment,” Bjarnason said. “I became committed to inculcating a culture of safety so that people report and learn and know that we don’t punish for errors, but help to make healthcare safer.”

At that time, Bjarnason was the chief nursing officer at Harris Health System in Houston, and not looking for a new position. But when a colleague mentioned that the prominent academic teaching hospital in Portland was looking for a vice president, who’d also be their associate dean for clinical affairs and chief nursing officer, she didn’t hesitate. After 18 grueling hours of interviews, the job was hers.

“I wake up every day and can hardly wait to get to work. Even a bad day is a good day,” Bjarnason told The Lund Report. ”I love what I do, and couldn’t have fallen into something that’s made me happier. An amazingly amount of change is happening in healthcare. It’s something we all have to sit up and take notice of. We can’t keep doing things the way we were doing them yesterday and expect to succeed tomorrow. We have to stay on top of our game. It’s exciting, but we have to be innovative, find new ways of doing things, and embrace the process and improvement tools that help us make our work better.“

As a child, Bjarnason wanted to become an archeologist, following the example of her mother, who was fascinated with first nation cultures and would take her young daughter to Saskatchewan to visit tribal sites.

“I thought they were grand, and was interested in learning more about where we came from and how we lived in harmony with the earth.”

Then reality set in, and she realized it would be difficult to earn a living by studying antiquities so she turned to nursing.

After receiving a nursing diploma from Vancouver Hospital, she went on to earn her B.S., M.A and PhD from the University of Texas. “Becoming a nurse was the best decision I ever made,” she said.

OHSU Patient Safety

Joining OHSU’s executive team last December, Bjarnason brought her passion for patient safety to the forefront.

“Most safety issues in hospitals aren’t happening because of bad people but bad systems, and people won’t report issues because they feel they get punished – that we reprimand them. It’s important that we learn from mistakes or near misses.” 

Involvement with the Oregon Action Coalition led Bjarnason to secure a matching $150,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She had embraced an Institute of Medicine report that called upon nurses to achieve higher levels of education and training, and be full partners with physicians and other healthcare professionals to redesign healthcare in this country.

With that grant, OHSU, the Coalition and the Oregon Center for Nursing will help prepare nurses for leadership roles on corporate and healthcare boards such as coordinated care organizations and hospitals.

“We’re trying to have a wide view,” said Tom Engle, RN, co-lead of the OAC and chair of the nursing section of the Oregon Public Health Association.

That IOM report suggested that 80 percent of nurses earn a baccalaureate or advanced degrees by 2020.

“As a nation, we are fairly far off – probably about 50 percent of our nurses prepared at that level,” Bjarnason said. “Fortunately we’ve already reached that level at OHSU. Substantial literature indicates that the more prepared nurses are, the better the patient outcomes.”

Since joining OHSU, Bjarnason’s earned praise from colleagues. Among them Jana Britton, executive director of the Oregon Center for Nursing and co-lead of the Coalition. “Dana’s contribution to the nursing community in Oregon is impressive. Within a short period of time, Dana has established herself as a true leader with a strong commitment to ensuring every Oregonian who needs one has the best nurse available.”

Heightened Interest in Nursing

OHSU does its best not to overproduce nurses, Bjarnason said. It received more than 1,900 applications to more than 17 programs, degrees, specialties and campuses for its summer and fall terms this year -- 1,480 undergraduate and 422 graduate applications. They admitted 33 percent of the undergraduate applicants and 32 percent of the graduate applicants.

“We work closely with our clinical partners and employers in Oregon (the great majority of our graduates remain in Oregon, higher in our rural areas) to understand demand so that our graduates can be assured quality clinical learning experiences and find positions upon graduation,” said Susan Bakewell Sachs, Ph.D., R.N., P.N.P.-B.C., F.A.A.N., vice president for nursing affairs and dean of the School of Nursing.

Currently, OHSU employs 2,015 direct care nurses, 320 advance practice nurses and 120 nurse leaders.

Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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