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Leading the Way: VA Illiana Employees Honored for Exemplary Conduct

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VA Illiana Executive Director Staci Williams commended Brian A. Winkle, left, and Jenny L. Merrell, right, for work that reflects deep commitment to patient safety. Williams presented the employees with challenge coins and emphasized how their actions show commitment to high reliability organization principles.

Two VA Illiana Health Care System employees were recognized for outstanding work in support of America’s Veterans and high reliability organization (HRO) principles in a ceremony held at the Danville VA Medical Center on July 22, 2022.

Two VA Illiana employees were recognized for outstanding work in support of America’s Veterans and high reliability organization (HRO) principles in a ceremony held at the Danville VA Medical Center on July 22, 2022.   

VA Illiana Executive Director Staci Williams commended Jenny L. Merrell and Brian A. Winkle for work that reflects deep commitment to patient safety. Williams presented the employees with challenge coins and emphasized how their actions show commitment to high reliability organization principles. VA’s commitment to high reliability is aimed at achieving safety, quality, and efficiency goals and is built on five central principles: sensitivity to operations, reluctance to simplify, preoccupation with failure, deference to expertise, and practicing resilience.  

Merrell, a pest controller, demonstrated the HRO principle of “reluctance to simplify” in her work preparing for a major facility inspection. While preparing for the inspection, Merrell spoke up about pest hazards. Using her expertise, she called attention to potential pest entry points including the room’s suspended ceiling. Rather than accept a simple and incomplete solution, Merrell proposed changes that led to a hard ceiling being installed in the space. 

“The right solution is the only solution,” said Merrell. “The work we do is complicated. If you don’t seek out the root causes of problems, those problems will remain. Eventually, bigger issues will present themselves down the road. Better care for Veterans means looking deeper into everything.”  

Merrell added that when VA employees take time to recognize the complexity of what they are doing, they will come to realize that there are many unexpected places where problems could arise.  

Winkle, a motor vehicle operator with VA Illiana’s Veterans transportation service, exemplified the HRO principle of “deference to expertise” when helping a Veteran in a potentially life-threatening situation. Winkle was transporting a Veteran following an appointment at the Danville VA Medical Center when he noticed changes in the Veteran’s behavior and appearance. Upon arriving at the Veteran’s residence, Winkle contacted the Veteran’s home-based patient care nurse. The nurse quickly arrived and determined the Veteran was suffering from very low blood sugar and needed medical attention. By seeking immediate assistance from VA staff with pertinent knowledge of the Veteran’s needs, Winkle may have saved the Veteran’s life. 

Discussing his actions, Winkle said it was simply a matter of providing Veterans with the level of care he would hope to receive in a similar situation.  

"It comes down to treating our Veterans the way we’d hope to be treated in our time of need,” said Winkle. “I know if I were showing signs like that, I’d want someone to be there for me and connect me with the people who can help. This type of treatment is our standard because it reminds Veterans how much they matter to us.” 

The dedication shown by Merrell and Winkle reflects VA’s culture of high reliability and serves as an example for all to follow. VA Illiana’s ongoing commitment to becoming a high reliability organization includes baseline training for all frontline employees, clinical team training, and experiential learning exercises to maximize patient safety in every area of operations. 

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