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Ochsner Health’s chief wellness officer ties health of hospital staff to patient safety


Nigel Girgrah of Ochsner talks about expanding wellness efforts, building support, and how it relates to improving care for patients.

When hospitals are looking to develop wellness programs, Nigel Girgrah acknowledged it can be an intimidating process.

“It feels like you're about to boil the ocean,” said Girgrah, the chief wellness officer of Ochsner Health. “And I think that can create, for some, a sense of paralysis.”

Girgrah and other healthcare leaders discussed the importance of strengthening the well-being of the workforce during a panel discussion at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit. They emphasized the importance of wellness as a key quality indicator for hospitals and noted that high turnover can hurt the quality of care and the bottom line.

After the session, Girgrah spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® to offer some perspective on how hospitals can develop and expand their wellness efforts.

(See video of our conversation with Nigel Girgrah. The story continues below.)

While it may be difficult at first, Girgrah said the key is to simply begin.

“Start somewhere,” he said. “Ideally, you need to resource individuals to take this on.”

“This is truly cost center work, it's not a revenue center,” he said. “So you need to fund individuals, and really make it a strategic priority within your organization. At Ochsner, we're starting to have discussions about, does well-being need to be an organizational value? So it's really … start somewhere and ideally, just resource the work, resource the individuals, use data, and just start there.”

Wellness champions should work to get executive sponsors to encourage others in the organization to support those efforts, he said.

“It helps to have an executive sponsor,” Girgrah said.

In his case, Girgrah said he built credibility at Ochsner with previous successes in the organization, including directing transplants. He pointed to the value of building relationships with staff in other departments. For some, the concept of staff wellness can be "fuzzy."

He also pointed to the idea of creating “a sense of shared accountability” for making gains in wellness, including tying improvement to compensation.

Girgrah also said it’s “critical” for wellness leaders to connect efforts to improve staff well-being to the goal of patient safety.

“I think there's a greater sense, and emerging data set, that workforce well-being is not just a leading quality indicator, but perhaps the leading quality indicator,” Girgrah said. “It drives, and it's been shown to drive quality and safety outcomes. It reduces turnover. And you could argue that turnover is a major quality indicator in terms of consistency at the bedside. It drives patient experience, it's tied in with population health outcomes.”

“Yet we're still probably two decades from where we were in the quality and safety arena,” he added. “And I think 10 years from now, hopefully, these efforts will be really keenly aligned with our quality and safety efforts at most organizations.”

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