Virginia Mason Franciscan Health — which operates 11 hospitals and more than 300 care sites in the Puget Sound region of Washington — is reporting success with addressing hospital quality and safety measures, the result of bringing together two organizations with a strong history of patient care.

Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and Franciscan Health joined to form the new health system in January, explains Charleen Tachibana, DNP, senior vice president of quality and safety at the health system.

Virginia Mason Medical Center achieved the Healthgrades 2021 Outstanding Patient Experience Award, which places it among the top 15% of hospitals nationwide for patient experience. It is the only hospital in the Seattle area to receive the award for nine consecutive years.

St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, and St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor earned the Healthgrades 2021 Patient Safety Excellence Award, putting them in the top 10% of all short-term acute care facilities reporting patient safety data evaluated by Healthgrades.

The Leapfrog Group also awarded Virginia Mason Medical Center an A for the 19th consecutive year. St. Joseph Medical Center, St. Anthony Hospital, and St. Michael Medical Center also earned A grades.

System Uses Toyota Lean

Tachibana, who came from Virginia Mason, says much of the success there can be attributed to using the Toyota Lean methodology for the past 20 years. That approach is being implemented across the new healthcare system.

“One example is our patient safety alert and response system. It’s a principled method by which we try to ensure every single employee is a safety inspector, and every employee has the ability to call out safety concerns or defects in our work processes,” she says. “We resolve them as quickly as we can with some pretty deep root cause analyses and mistake-proof processes.”

In some instances, key safety improvements arose from tragic errors. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health favors transparency to promote safety beyond its own health system, Tachibana says.

In one 2004 case, a radiology patient was inadvertently given a syringe of chlorhexidine cleaning solution instead of contrast solution. The patient died, and Virginia Mason’s investigation revealed a root cause of unlabeled syringes.

“We chose to go public with that investigation so that other organizations could benefit from our experience and root out that defect within our systems,” she says. “That was called out immediately as a patient safety alert, we did our root cause analysis, implemented safety systems so it doesn’t happen again, and we shared that with our colleagues in other hospitals and health systems.”


  • Charleen Tachibana, DNP, Senior Vice President, Quality and Safety, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, Seattle. Phone: (206) 223-6600.