to main content How RPI is Fueling a Safe Patient Ambassador Program | Center for Transforming Healthcare
High Reliability Healthcare

Data Driven Insights and Aha Moments in the Pursuit of Zero Harm and High Reliability Healthcare.

How RPI is Fueling a Safe Patient Ambassador Program


Several health care professionals wearing face masks.

Catholic Health Services of Long Island introduces innovative program

When COVID-19 took hold in U.S. hospitals, the impacts were immediate — and in many cases, almost paradoxical. Even as hospitals filled with patients seeking treatment for a virus that has affected 20 million people worldwide, health care organizations around the country were experiencing mass layoffs as the industry lost a stunning 1.4 million jobs in April 2020. And nurses, who were busier than ever caring for critical patients, were also charged with providing a high level of emotional and communication support as patients faced this frightening journey without their families by their sides.

Located in one of the national epicenters of COVID-19, Catholic Health Services, a large integrated health care system on Long Island, (CHSLI) knew safely meeting employee and patient needs through this pandemic would take an innovative approach. CHS had a strong framework for such a solution through a longstanding partnership with the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare. As a safety-focused organization, CHS has worked extensively with the Center to train its staff on Robust Process Improvement® (RPI®). This combination of Lean, Six Sigma and formal change management (Facilitating Change™) can help organizations successfully navigate change by creating the mindset and behaviors needed to drive high reliability health care.

Driven by Diane Burshtein, a recent RPI graduate and director of Patient Experience at two of CHS’s six hospitals, St. Charles Hospital and St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, quickly developed a Patient Experience Ambassador program. Working in lockstep with clinical, operational and information technology leadership, Burshtein connected with all stakeholders to ensure an intentional, thoughtful launch to the program that would help so many.

“Many had limited experience in critical care settings and pushed their personal fears aside, going above and beyond the call of duty to help during this crisis,” Burshtein said. “The RPI training was pivotal to helping them feel prepared and ready for this important role. The passion and professionalism they demonstrated was truly inspirational.”

This unique program identified and trained employees to serve as liaisons between COVID-19 patients and their families, meeting a vital need to create connections even as visitors were restricted. The program helped save jobs as well: Employees selected as ambassadors who may have been furloughed as the organization tightened outpatient and elective care in an effort to protect patients and slow the pandemic spread.

Working with leaders of the relevant functions, Burshtein and her team used the skills they learned from the Center’s RPI methodology in training 24 ambassadors at their 2 hospitals on their critical role in helping patients stay connected to their loved ones. Ambassadors were given comprehensive training on the technology that would connect COVID-19 patients with their families, helping them celebrate birthdays and welcome new children into the world. In some cases, these virtual visits were a family’s last conversation, making a seamless connection the highest priority.

“Such a key part of this initiative’s success is the leadership exhibited throughout,” said Dawn Allbee, executive director of customer engagement at the Center. “And a lot of these pieces can be taught. Whether it’s improved handoff communication to a systemwide patient safety briefing, or building buy-in and acceptance for critical change initiatives, leaders can help foster so many pieces of this type of program. At the end of the day our goal is zero harm and RPI can help get organizations there.”

By the summer, CHS patient ambassadors were able to facilitate more than 1,200 virtual visits system-wide, making 2,500 connections possible. These visits were invaluable to family — and to the ambassadors.

“For our employees, the Patient Ambassador Program was another opportunity to help families – and to bring our Mission to life,” said Patrick M. O'Shaughnessy, DO, MBA, MS-POPH, FACEP, CHCQM, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer for Catholic Health Services of Long Island. “The goal of helping patients and families is what keeps us pushing forward even — and especially — in difficult times.”