The Safety Experts
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, “Protecting our patients has always been the No. 1 priority,” says Pam Gordon, CHLA’s Vice President of Patient Safety, Quality and Operational Excellence.
By Eunice Oh
Hearing Pam Gordon, MBA, CPHQ, FACHE, discuss her work is like listening to an army general calmly walk troops through a mission. She leads with order. There’s strategy behind every decision. And few things seem to faze her.
“My department is there to serve those who serve our patients. That’s our role, our responsibility and what motivates me to get up every morning and come to work,” says Gordon, who is Vice President of Patient Safety, Quality and Operational Excellence at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “We are there to make a difference for those who sacrifice at the bedside. That is our job.”
Under Gordon’s purview are a multitude of team members who collaborate to keep CHLA safe. Specialists in infection prevention, emergency management, process improvement, patient safety, data and analytics, and accreditation and licensing comprise her team who all focus on improving processes and establishing new or more efficient protocols. Their work is distinctly different but uniquely tied to each other. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unravel, Gordon quickly mobilized her staff.
“We have a plan in place for everything,” says Gordon. “Everything from how to triage a symptomatic patient without risking exposure to others, to how to set up tents in the parking lot in case we see a surge in cases, to conserving PPE [personal protective equipment], we are walking and talking through every situation so that CHLA is 100% prepared.”
“We are the safety stewards,” she adds.
Fit for the role
Gordon has always approached everything with military-like precision. She had a successful career with one of the world’s largest munitions manufacturers, first as a quality engineer before becoming a manager who oversaw operations and safety precautions. Twelve years ago, she decided to shift gears and enter the health care field.
“I just had this innate desire to do something where I would be closer to the change,” she explains. “What I love about what I do is that it’s not just changing one patient’s life; we are putting systems in place that improve care for that child and more children while also helping practitioners and staff—substantial changes that affect generations.”
For Gordon, nothing is more rewarding than receiving feedback from doctors or nurses. When she’s told that new processes her team created made their day easier or helped them tackle a scenario they weren’t sure how to handle, she’s reminded why she came to CHLA, drawn to “something bigger than myself.”
‘Our No. 1 priority’
Although the novel coronavirus crisis has radically transformed everyday life, it hasn’t changed what the Quality Improvement and Patient Safety team does, day in and day out.
“We are all about planning and logistics, finding ways to work safely and more efficiently,” says Gordon. “Our department brings order and structure to situations of chaos. We help define the root causes of problems and work with experts at the hospital to put action plans into place.”
That agility was on full display at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak when Gordon’s team got the hospital’s Command Center up and running, and worked with nursing leadership to develop a screening unit, which checks more than 2,500 employees and around 1,000 visitors a day.
As a leader, Gordon is most proud that her teams have banded together with one common goal in mind. “Protecting our patients has always been the No. 1 priority, regardless of anything that’s happening,” says Gordon. “This group has always been about serving others and bringing hope to our community. That has been exemplified on a broader level these days, and I feel blessed and fortunate to be able to be a part of it.”