​​​Image of Lucy Bicao
Red tape on the hospital floor ensures that staff, patients and family know how to position wheelchairs when they’re not in use. (Photo: UHN)​

Lucy Bicao's experience shows patient safety is a team effort.

The housekeeper on the musculoskeletal 7 South unit at Toronto Rehab noticed  wheelchairs parked every which way in the hall outside patient rooms. With an elderly patient population, many of whom require walkers or mobility aides, she feared the wheelchairs could become a tripping hazard.

"Every morning when I came in the wheelchairs would be all over the place," says Lucy. "I was bumping into them too.  It wasn't safe."

Lucy raised her concern during the unit's daily interprofessional huddle. She asked the team to park one of the wheelchairs inside the patient room, and another one outside the door with the pedals facing the wall. "We were asking the team to put the wheelchairs in very specific spots," says Lucy.

 "It's the kind of thing that can fall through the cracks unless you have a good system to remind you to do it."

An occupational therapist (OT) presented a simple idea to help staff remember where to park the wheelchairs at another morning huddle where Lucy addressed this concern

"We've used tape outlines to organize our equipment storage and it's been very effective," the OT says. "I suggested we try marking the area in the rooms where we want the chairs to go.

"It makes it easy to see where the chairs should go, and where they shouldn't."

Culture of accountability

The bright red tape, labelled "wheelchair," is difficult to miss. Lucy now says she almost never finds a chair out of place.

"The change didn't happen overnight, but we kept talking about the problem," says Lucy. "I think putting the tape down worked because it's a constant visual reminder that that this is everyone's job."

Lucy likes going to huddles to tell the team when she has a problem and to stay informed about what's happening on the unit.

Sylvie Robinson, the unit manager, says that, as Lucy demonstrated, any staff member can have a big impact on patient and workplace safety.

"No one else had thought about the wheelchairs as a safety issue until Lucy brought it up at our huddle," says Sylvie. "The fact that she wouldn't let go of the issue until we had successfully resolved it speaks to our culture of accountability.

"I hope it shows that everyone should feel safe speaking to anyone else about a problem, regardless of position, especially when it's a safety problem."

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