Nature Inspires a Day of Team Building and Creative Energy – HCIF’s Staff Retreat

Wendy Nickel

September 8, 2023

In the middle of Philadelphia sits an oasis of nature and beauty, rivaling some of the more exotic and scenic national parks in the United States. HCIF had the unique opportunity to spend the day at the Discovery Center for our staff retreat in July.  In addition to being able to utilize a beautiful public space to promote creative thinking and inspiration, we were heartened by the giggling campers who were in the room next door to us. We even had the chance to enjoy a nature walk after a long day of exercising different parts of our brains than we usually do in our day-to-day work. We left the retreat exhausted, but inspired and ready to put our ideas and thinking into action.

According to its website, the Discovery Center provides education and adventure programs that “inspire self-discovery, foster personal achievement, and build community across Philadelphia”. It struck me that this is very similar to what we hope to achieve through our programming  to improve health care. Ultimately, our work promotes opportunities for individuals and communities to achieve optimal health and well-being through collaboration and shared learning. It was just fortuitous that our mission found a kindred spirit in the Discovery Center. 

During the retreat, the first in many years, we had the opportunity to connect in person and reflect on our accomplishments over the past several years, including our anti-racism work, a new strategic roadmap, and organizational work to improve our exposure and social media presence. Related to this, we had a chance to think about our identity as we begin designing a new website (coming soon). We celebrated the launch of several successful programs, including the Health Equity Data Strategy Collaborative; the 2022 Regional Community Health Needs Assessment; PENNJ-SOS, an opioid stewardship program engaging clinicians and patients; and hosted multiple summits addressing gun violence in the hospital setting, health literacy, and health equity. We also enjoyed a fun Team Bingo game – if you haven’t done this before, it’s a great ice breaker for teams or new partners. 

We also had the opportunity to think about our current healthcare environment and how HCIF can support recent shifts, such as addressing social needs and risks to achieve optimal health. Our retreat highlighted how HCIF is poised to meet the needs of both our community and health care partners to facilitate achievements in health equity. We left the day with a number of to-dos, takeaways, and next steps to move towards our long-term vision as the go-to source for supporting work to improve health.

We started the day with an overcast sky overlooking the lovely Discovery Center lake and left with a bright shining sun, much akin to the brightness and energy with which we left the retreat.

President’s Update: National Patient Safety Awareness Week

Wendy Nickel

March 28, 2023

During recent travels, I was reminded of the jarring statistic from the Institute of Medicine’s  (IOM)1999 report, “To Err is Human,” that we lose the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers daily in the US due to patient safety events. It boggles the mind to think that millions of people fly each day and yet they are more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than in a plane crash. The safety record within aviation can mostly be attributed to a culture of safety that permeates the industry.

What makes flying so safe? Importantly, there is a just culture in aviation. This means that anyone – the pilot, a flight attendant, or a mechanic – can report an error, event, or near-miss without fear of retribution. Being able to raise a red flag by any team member ensures that more people are able to surface safety concerns before they become events.

Since the IOM report came out, the lessons learned in the aviation industry have been applied to patient safety. When comparing the two, many features in aviation can be likened to healthcare – the doctor or lead clinician often serves as the “pilot” supported by other critical team members. Team members in healthcare can include not only clinicians, but food and environmental services staff, other non-clinical staff members, and importantly, patients and families. Many healthcare organizations have adopted a just culture to ensure that anyone can surface a safety concern.

The theme of 2023’s National Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 12-18) was “Be a Patient Safety Hero: Anywhere, Anytime – Always.” This theme especially resonates this year as we evaluate the impacts of COVID on patient safety. During the height of the pandemic, fewer family members were able to visit with their loved ones, reducing the number of team members able to surface safety concerns. Additionally, ongoing workforce shortages have stressed the systems that were in place to catch safety concerns before they became events. A recent analysis shows that the gains which were made over the past 25 years in patient safety have been significantly impacted since COVID was first discovered in the US in late 2019, including increases in central line and catheter-associated urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated events.

During this National Patient Safety Awareness Week, HCIF acknowledges and celebrates all of the patient safety heroes who remain committed to the provision of the safest care for our patients. These include members of our Clinical Advisory Committee who steadfastly identify safety concerns in their own institutions and raise these as priorities in the region. We thank and recognize participants in our Partnership for Patient Care programs who take time out of their busy schedules to collaborate and learn together about topics such as medication safety, improving healthcare disparities, and healthcare associated infections. Through the PPC program, we are pleased to provide forums, such as Safe Table, that provide space for patient safety and quality professionals to come together to address serious safety events in a punitive-free and supportive environment.

Similar to the aviation industry – where every member of the team serves an important role in safety – anyone can be a patient safety hero, not just a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. Even patients themselves and their family members can serve as patient safety heroes. We all have a role to play in regaining the gains made in patient safety prior to COVID.

President’s Update: Reversing the Down Escalator

Wendy Nickel

October 28, 2022

Earlier this month, HCIF held our annual Partnership for Patient Care Leadership Summit – HCIF’s first in-person event since 2019. It was also HCIF’s first-ever hybrid event and we were delighted to welcome over 100 people both virtually and IRL (in real life). The Summit’s theme was “Achieving Health Equity through Community Engagement” and featured keynote speaker, Dr. Somava Saha, a health equity expert from Well-Being and Health Equity in the World, as well as Victor Murray, Senior Director of Community Engagement and Capacity Building from the Camden Coalition.

Dr. Saha’s talk outlined the benefits of engaging communities to advance healthcare quality, safety and equity. She shared powerful images of how place-based inequities have been caused by long-standing policies intended to propagate them, such as redlining, predatory lending, and gentrification. Using a compelling metaphor, Dr. Saha likened health equity to an escalator –in communities where resources are plentiful, the up escalator represents the ease by which individuals can get to where they’re going without obstacles or being slowed down.

However, in less-resourced communities, individuals are constantly trying to go up the down escalator – each time they encounter an obstacle, such as illness, unemployment or unstable housing, it is harder and harder to get to the top. She described the importance of engaging communities to address equity at the roots of what drives health care disparities. Using this approach, for example, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital partnered with the public school system to increase third-grade reading levels. This work resulted in decreased hospital utilization and inpatient days for the targeted communities.

Victor Murray showcased Camden Coalition’s programs that advance health equity through community engagement and emphasized the power of partnership between healthcare providers and community-based organizations. His presentation began with reminding the audience about the importance of individual relationships. He led an exercise where he asked each person to write a note to someone they care about and why. This was an important reminder for tapping into the reasons we are in healthcare and despite facing challenging situations, continue to persevere for the good of communities.

The theme of health equity was carried throughout the day, including the Delaware Valley Patient and Safety and Quality Award program. Celebrating its 20th year, the award featured new criteria in 2022, including health equity and patient and family engagement. The top three winners were Temple University Hospital, Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, with programs focused on: utilizing a community health worker program to improve frequency of visits by individuals with complex needs; improving crash cart readiness; and increasing breastfeeding initiation rates among African American patients in the newborn nursery.

Audience members also heard from HCIF staff about two of our signature programs. April Reilly presented about the important work of the Health Equity Data Strategy (HEDS) collaborative, which is comprises area hospitals working to improve the collection and utilization of racial, ethnicity, and language (REaL) data in order to address health care disparities. Additionally, Kelsey Salazar provided an inspiring and passionate look at the Collaborative Opportunities to Advance Community Health (COACH) program and how it fosters collaboration between a variety of stakeholders to improve food insecurity and trauma-informed care.

It was a remarkable day of learning and sharing, marked by metaphors and images for how to achieve health equity with partnership, care, and engagement of community.  It certainly felt that all of us were working to reverse the down escalators that day. Thanks to all of you who attended and if you were not able to participate, feel free to view the presentations and recordings from the Partnership for Patient Care 2022 Leadership Summit, by following this link and clicking the “Leadership Summit” tab.

President’s Update: September 2022

Wendy Nickel

September 26, 2022

Summer Should Get a Speeding Ticket

I read this quote recently somewhere and it really resonated – merely a few days into the fall, the blur of summer feels like a distant memory. It used to be that summer was a time of catch up and slow-down in professional life – fewer events, fewer meetings, and more time to savor the longer days and the sun’s reflections casting light across the office. However, the pace didn’t seem to slow this summer at HCIF, as we had a number of exciting projects and initiatives that continued to keep us busy throughout the season.

Our summer kicked off with our Health Literacy Summit in June, a 2-day virtual journey exploring concepts related to equity, inclusive care, and connection to our inner patient. It was a fascinating two-day event which highlighted and elevated patient voices in a panel discussion about how health literacy can be a catalyst for achieving health equity. It also featured a moving presentation following the journey of an individual with substance use disorder and the barriers he encountered in receiving care, until a lens of inclusion was applied to his healthcare pathway. Our next health literacy summit is coming up in just a few weeks on October 27th, and is sure to be equally as engaging.

The region’s hospitals and healthsystems achieved a major milestone with the completion of the regional Community Health Needs Assessment (rCHNA) on June 30th, 2022. Facilitated by HCIF, the rCHNA identifies a number of health issues the broader Southeastern Pennsylvania area can use to prioritize efforts and resources. Some of these priorities include: mental health conditions, access to care, chronic disease prevention and management, substance use disorders, and racism and healthcare disparities.

In July, HCIF held a quarterly Board of Directors meeting to coincide with the end of our fiscal year. During this meeting, HCIF reviewed achievements related to annual organizational and programmatic goals. One of the goals we have been working towards for the past year is the development of a vision statement to guide our work in anti-racism:

“As a collaborative partner invested in the health of diverse communities, HCIF strongly values and centers health equity, accessibility to health care, and freedom from health care harm. We firmly believe we can only achieve equity when all are ensured the right to safe, high quality, and compassionate health care.

HCIF strongly condemns racism and bigotry which are in direct opposition to equity and perpetuate poor health outcomes and disparities. HCIF commits to fighting racism by using and sharing our collective knowledge, influence, and power to advance high quality health care for all communities.”

We recognize that statements are just that….without actions, they are just words. We have worked hard since 2020 to ensure that our words are backed up with forward progress, by educating our team, participating in discussion forums, and engaging resources to support our health equity and anti-racism journey. In the coming months, we will be working on actions and commitments we can make as an organization to ensure our anti-racism work is sustained.

Beginning in August, HCIF also welcomed three new staff members over the past several weeks: Lauren Eckel (Project Coordinator), Sehrish Rashid (Project Manager), and Meghan Smith (Project Manager). We are excited to have them join HCIF and eagerly await the many ways they are sure to contribute to the important work of our organization.

The summer sped by and the fall is looking quite busy too for HCIF. We look forward to keeping you updated on our many events and milestones through future Highlights newsletters and our social media spaces. In the meantime, savor these last few warm days and longer periods of daylight before the fall becomes a distant memory.

President’s Update: June 2022

Wendy Nickel

June 29, 2022

As the Pennsylvania Health Literacy Summit kicked off earlier this month, we were introduced to A.L, a 39 year-old individual who was an intravenous drug user living on the streets. A.L. had a serious infection and required a hospital stay, but for an individual living with addiction, it was challenging for staff to understand his needs and how to address his myriad health and social challenges. We followed A.L.’s journey to find secure food resources, and then affordable housing, and then pre- and post-natal care for his partner and growing family. Through A.L.’s journey, we learned about inclusion health and how caring for excluded populations helps us to improve care for all.

A.L.’s journey teaches us that inequitable access to care, healthcare disparities, and healthcare harm is often caused by exclusion. By now, many of you have seen the graphic that shows individuals of differing heights standing on the same-sized box trying to see over a fence to view a baseball game. The graphic depicts the continuum from equality to equity. A newer addition to the graphic shows the continuum ending in inclusion, with no fence creating a barrier and the viewers now as participants in the game.

Health literacy is a mechanism to ensure all have the opportunity to be included in healthcare. Imagine an individual who is overwhelmed by a difficult diagnosis and is asked to make a healthcare decision without support or potential understanding. We are perpetuating exclusion when we don’t ensure all individuals have the ability or capacity to participate in their healthcare. Employing health literacy best practices can quite literally ensure that every member of our communities has access to an extraordinarily complex system. Health literacy isn’t just about addressing the individual who speaks English as a second language, or the person who has less than an eighth grade education. It’s also about a paradigm shift to understanding all of the factors which contribute to an individual’s understanding and experience of care.

Health literacy levels the playing field to ensure all are included in healthcare. HCIF is grateful to serve as the lead for the Pennsylvania Health Literacy Coalition and continue to prop the doors open. For more information about our work in health literacy, please visit