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NASA Leaders Share Experiences with WRNMMC Staff


First Leadership Grand Rounds Focuses on Enhancing Culture of Safety and Quality

By Bernard S. Little
WRNMMC Command Communications

Walter Reed Bethesda hosted its first Leadership Grand Rounds featuring top officials from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Oct. 3 in the medical center’s Memorial Auditorium.
The director and other heads of various divisions within the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, addressed their experiences of developing and sustaining a culture of safety during their discussion with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center staff.
Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Satyen Gada, president of WRNMMC’s Medical Staff, said having the NASA leaders share their experiences with the WRNMMC staff offers “valuable insight into how Walter Reed Bethesda can further uphold its commitment to high reliability health-care delivery.” He stated NASA leaders are also seeking to empower their workforce at every level by building trust and safety reporting, while also avoiding complacency and maintaining a safety culture. “NASA has proven itself to be an innovative force in quality and safety,” he added.
Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark A. Kobelja, WRNMMC director, agreed, stating he hopes the event will be the first in a series of open forums in understanding how the medical center achieves and maintains “best possible care in an emerging, very technologically-driven, modern-era of medicine.”
The WRNMMC director stated NASA leaders kicking off the forum series is appropriate because NASA meets the challenges of “wrestling with the human factor in a high risk environment.”
Like medicine, Kobelja said aeronautics and space [exploration] have come a long way. “I think we have a lot to learn from our partners,” he added.
“We like to talk about ourselves at NASA,” said Richard Barney, director of Safety and Mission Assurance for the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We like to talk about our successes, but more importantly, we like to talk about our failures, root causes, [and] remain sensitive to our mistakes.”
Barney explained this helps NASA avoid complacency and is part of the agency’s safety culture. “We have to battle complacency, as well as normalization of deviance [in which people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don't consider it as deviant], and attitudes such as ‘We don’t do it that way,’ or ‘We’ve always done it that way.’
“Our safety culture is in our DNA,” Barney furthered, explaining this culture includes the focuses of: reporting (concerns); just (treating each other fairly); flexibility (changing to meet new demands); learning (from successes and mistakes); and engagement (everyone does their part).
“We need our people 100 percent engaged and thinking about what they’re doing at all times,” agreed “Dr. Edward Rogers, chief knowledge officer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He explained complacency sets in when people are not focused, and people establish their own rules that may not work best within the system. “Small mistakes can creep in and cause big disasters,” he added, citing the tragedies of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
“We work very hard to make [mistakes] minimal, but when people come up with their own rules or they stop thinking all together, the whole system is at risk,” Rogers added.
“We need to make sure we know what happened when things go wrong, and keep those things in front of us. We also have to make sure we understand why we’re successful, when we’re successful,” Rogers furthered. “We never want people to stop asking questions,” he continued.
Former astronaut Paul Richards, a project manager at Goddard, discussed “organizational silence,” which he described as saying or doing little in response to an issue an organization faces, which can result in harm.
Sharing a personal story, Richards, who flew aboard the space shuttle mission in 2001, explained how he nearly lost his leg following a cancer diagnosis and two doctors recommended amputation. He got a third opinion based upon another doctor choosing not to be silent. “I am so glad that he spoke out and trusted his gut,” said Richards, who explained that by the third doctor speaking up, Richard’s leg was saved.
Communication is critical to the success of WRNMMC and NASA, said Dr. Christopher J. Scolese, director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Our failures are generally due to a lack of communication, [and] communication isn’t just me talking to you or you talking somebody else; it’s also everybody listening, [whether] it’s to your peers or to other people within the organization.”
Scolese added that like NASA, WRNMMC is a high performing organization with processes and procedures, and complacency must be avoided at all levels. He explained open communication and planning help avoid complacency. “Speaking up is not bad…being reviewed is not bad. They are a part of how we can become successful.”
From 2011 to 2016, NASA has been successful in being named the “Best Place to Work” among large federal agencies within the government. Last year, Goddard was named the “Best Place to Work” within NASA. The rankings are compiled from an employee satisfaction survey administered to more than 100,000 federal  employees by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management annually. Among other issues, the survey seeks federal employees’ sentiments concerning leadership, workplace satisfaction, pay, innovation and work-life balance at the agencies where they work.