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Every 1/2 Second Counts: A Victim's Perspective On Patient Safety
He lost his wife in a car accident and his toddler son days later to a medication error.
Ridley Barron
Publish Date: May 25, 2016
OR Excellence
Ridley Barron Ridley Barron

Speaker Profile

  • Nationally known speaker on quality of care, sentinel events and the second victim in hospital errors.
  • Nominated for the prestigious MITSS (Medically Induced Trauma Support Services) Hope Award in 2011.
  • Author of the book Twist of Faith.

In 2004, a double dose of unspeakable tragedy floored Ridley Barron, but it didn't keep him down for long. First, a motorist ran a stop sign and broadsided the minivan transporting him, his wife, Sarah, and their 3 young children back home to Georgia after a week's vacation in South Carolina. The accident took the life of Sarah and seriously injured Josh, his 17-month-old son. Then, 5 days later, while Josh was recovering in the hospital from the head injuries he'd suffered in the accident, a nurse administered an adult-strength overdose of seizure medication to the toddler. The medication error killed him.

Mr. Barron chose to turn the tragedies into something positive. Now in demand as a speaker, he travels the country, challenging caregivers and healthcare facilities to make patient safety a top priority — and reminding them that safety is not a destination that you arrive at but an ongoing journey that starts over every time the OR doors swing open.

  • The ½ second. About 3 weeks after the accident, a friend of mine said, "At that speed, if your van had arrived at the intersection just a 1???2 second sooner or later, this wreck never would have happened and your family would be okay." I realize that "½ second" has a wide range of applications for people who listen to what I have to share — from the pharmacist who could have double-checked the medication in a 1???2 second before she sent it to my son that day, to a doctor who takes an extra 1???2 second to go over his checklist before he performs a surgery, to the teenager who looks away from the road for a 1???2 second because he wants to look at a text while driving. We can't underestimate how important those actions are and the number of people they can impact.
  • The strength to go on. The day after the accident, I realized that my son, my daughter and Josh — who was still alive — were going to need a dad to take care of them. If I chose to be bitter, it would not only rob them of the dad they needed, it would also rob me of the opportunity to move forward and to heal. The vice president of risk management at the hospital was the first to see the opportunity for something good to come out of this. I had no idea that speaking about it would turn out to be anything more than that one event. I was just going to go share some thoughts, then go home and move on.
last family photo IN AN INSTANT This is the last family photo of the Barrons before a car accident took the life of Ridley Barron's wife, Sarah, and seriously injured his younger son, Josh, in his mother's arm.
  • The perspective. I talk about what I call 7 perspectives from my side of the bed — things my family learned as I reflected back on the situation and what happened with my son. I touch on everything from reminding healthcare workers that when somebody comes into the hospital it's a foreign world to them, to developing cultures of safety, to speaking a language people can understand. We've also got to remember that families want to be involved with their family members and their care. They want to be included in conversations.
  • Training needed. People frequently ask me if there's something I can recommend that would help doctors and nurses have these kinds of conversations, because they're just not trained in how to do it. I sympathize with that. As a pastor, I'm taught how to handle families in crisis and marriages that are in trouble, and how to sit with families who have lost a loved one. But if you're a doctor, you're not prepared for that, and it's a huge task if you don't have the tools to do it.
  • Honesty trumps all. Always be open and honest with patients and families, even when it's painful and difficult. Most of the time it's difficult, but it's always the better policy to tell the truth and deal with the situation. When we're more open and honest, yes, we have to deal with unfortunate circumstances, yes, we have to deal with the fallout from bad events, like my son's case, but it's much better to deal with all that when it happens than to try to deal with it 5 years down the road, when the truth comes out anyway.
  • Josh Barron\ TRAGIC TURN Days after surviving a car accident that killed his mother, 17-month-old Josh Barron lost his life as a result of a medication error in the hospital where he was recovering from his head injuries. This is the last picture of OR Excellence speaker Ridley Barron, who broke his shoulder, with his son.
  • On using personal tragedy for good. A tragic string of ½ second moments changed my life forever. At OR Excellence, I'll share my story of hope, healing and forgiveness. When you're faced with tough choices, in a ½ second you will make a decision that will start a ripple, and that ripple will make a wave. If you choose to start with excellence, then those around you will rise to excellence and they will ride the crest of that wave with you. But if you choose to compromise in the next ½ second, it may change you and it may change someone else forever. A nurse in Savannah decided one day that she wanted to cut a corner and in that ½ second it changed who I am forever.
  • Safety is a journey, not a destination. You may get back to your facility after this conference is over and find out that everybody in your department did everything just right and they didn't make one single mistake. That's awesome — celebrate those victories and pat your staff on the back. But remember when the doors crack open and another patient comes in, that safety journey starts all over again. You can't ever stop. You can't ever rest. It is the nature of what you do.
  • The only number that matters is zero. Zero is the only number that will ever matter in health care. By the sheer fact that you put on a badge every morning that says you're an employee of a healthcare facility, you take upon yourself that responsibility to do everything you can to keep the number of safety-related errors at zero. The next mother, father or child who comes in, they're not numbers, they're people. OSM