|Eliud Lopez, Patient Safety Champion and a proud employee of HHC's Segundo Ruiz Belvis Community Health Center|
During a recent renovation of the dental clinic at Belvis Diagnostic and Treatment Center in the South Bronx, the vendor installing new dental chairs wanted to put large metal junction boxes on the floor to house the chairs’ plumbing and electrical wiring. But Eliud Lopez, a Belvis employee for more than 26 years, quickly saw that the boxes would be a hazard for patients and the medical staff, who might trip and fall.
“Eliud said, ‘Wait a minute. There’s a better way to do this,’ ” recalled Dr. Amanda Ascher, Medical Director at Belvis. “He recommended that the plumbing and wiring be rerouted and aligned with the base of the chairs, so the electricians and plumbers could hide the wiring and plumbing there, out of the way.” It worked and the hazard was avoided.
It’s attention to details like this – details that HHC leadership and New York State Department of Health officials monitor closely for patient safety – and the ability to come up with solutions, that make Eliud Lopez an indispensable member of the Belvis Diagnostic and Treatment Center staff, said Dr. Ascher. Lopez is a laborer at the facility, and whether it’s a poorly installed shelf, wall brackets with sharp edges, a wet floor, or a burned-out light, Lopez takes action to fix the problem, the doctor said. Recently Lopez was named an HHC Patient Safety Champion for his efforts.
“The patients are our number one priority,” he said recently as he walked the halls of the three-story, 64,000-square-foot clinic that provides services including adult medicine, pediatrics, Ob-Gyn, dental, an eye clinic and podiatry. “We’ve got to make sure they are treated with respect and compassion and are coming to a clean and safe environment.”
While doctors and nurses are the first people who come to mind with regard to patient safety, laborers like Lopez, housekeepers, maintenance workers and other non-medical personnel are essential to patient safety and infection control, said Caroline Jacobs, HHC Senior Vice President for Patient Safety.
“They do the support work that is necessary to make sure the patient is cared for in a safe environment,” Jacobs said. “I like to think of them as the eyes and ears of the facility. They give us that first line of defense to correct things quickly.”
“As I’ve learned through the years, patient safety is everybody’s responsibility,” Lopez said.
In addition to his responsibilities as a laborer, he also assists with other jobs including monitoring contractual maintenance agreements, lighting, heat, water, housekeeping, supplies and equipment. He makes sure the facility’s hazardous waste is disposed of properly. He monitors the cleanliness and upkeep of the physical plant -- ceilings, walls and tiles – “anything that could compromise the safe delivery of care to our patients,” said Elizabeth Rodriguez, Executive Director of Belvis.
Like many HHC employees, Lopez, 47, comes from the neighborhood where he works. He was born at St. Francis Hospital, which used to be on the site that now houses Belvis, and grew up in the South Bronx. After high school he worked at Belvis as a volunteer for several months before being hired as a full-time employee in May 1985, and he has been there since.
He knows employees and patients alike at the clinic, and stopped to tell a patient in Spanish that the person she was looking for would be in later. “There’s a lot of poor people in this community,” he said. “We keep the people and the community healthy.”