From left: Claire-Cecile Pierre, Sunil Eappen and Allison Moriarty listen as Robert Higgins delivers his opening remarks during State of the Brigham.

In his first five months leading the hospital, Brigham President Robert S.D. Higgins, MD, MSHA, has found one thing abundantly clear: Even in the face of so many challenges, members of the Brigham community demonstrate a level of dedication and compassion that is unmatched, Higgins told staff during his opening remarks at the first State of the Brigham forum on April 14.

Speaking to a live audience in Bornstein Amphitheater and viewers watching the webcast virtually, Higgins acknowledged the past year has been physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. From the ongoing pandemic to capacity issues affecting hospitals nationwide earlier this year, the hardships that health care workers have faced often felt relentless, he remarked.

Even so, Brigham staff have remained unwavering in their support of patients, families and each other, Higgins said.

“I’m proud to say we’ve seen the Brigham community remain rooted in our commitment to high-quality patient care and driven by our mission,” he said.

To illustrate this, Higgins highlighted several examples of how staff bring the Brigham’s values to life. Among these was the recent launch of a groundbreaking clinical trial to test nasal vaccines for Alzheimer’s disease. Reflecting how the Brigham creates breakthroughs, the trial will study how well the vaccine prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s in younger, high-risk patients as well as if it halts the progression of symptoms in patients with active forms of the disease.

“This trial represents the culmination of nearly 20 years of research at the Brigham led by Dr. Howard Weiner,” Higgins said. “For two decades, his team has accumulated preclinical evidence supporting the potential of this nasal vaccine for Alzheimer’s — an amazing testament to the value of investing in this type of research.”

Higgins also underscored the importance of continuing to collaborate across Mass General Brigham and fulfill the promise of truly integrated system of patient care.

Additionally, he cautioned that there are still headwinds on the horizon, particularly as the financial impact of the pandemic continues to reverberate.

“As we have in the past several years, we have to see that our expenses are controlled as we consider how to balance our current budget,” Higgins said. “I’m proud to say that, like everything else, the Brigham will lead the way. As my mom said, pressure makes diamonds, and we want to continue to be the jewel in the crown of the American health care system.”

Additional Updates

The State of the Brigham also featured updates from other hospital leaders about priority areas, including research, quality and safety, and community outreach.

Allison Moriarty, MPH, senior vice president of Research Planning & Operations and Innovation, highlighted the many ways the Brigham research community is pursuing scientific breakthroughs and translating lab discoveries into clinical innovations. Among these are efforts around cell and gene therapy. In alignment with research colleagues across the system, Brigham researchers are expanding their studies of these cutting-edge therapies from cancer to other disease areas.

“All of us have been touched by human diseases and conditions,” Moriarty said. “You can be assured that whatever is ailing you or others across the country, we have somebody who’s working on it.”

Sunil Eappen, MD, MBA, senior vice president of Medical Affairs and chief medical officer, reviewed the results of the Brigham’s recent Joint Commission reaccreditation survey — describing the experience as “the most positive I’ve ever seen” because staff and surveyors genuinely sought to learn from one another, he explained.

Eappen noted that the survey resulted in 58 findings, many of which relate to issues that all staff can, and should, remain vigilant and proactive about addressing.

“If you’re a clinician, don’t use abbreviations. If you see oxygen tanks that are sitting without a container, do something about it — tell somebody. If you see ceiling tiles that are damaged, call to have them repaired,” Eappen said. “These are things that we expect someone else to take care of, but it’s really our responsibility to do that together. And this is not something you should be doing just in the last week before The Joint Commission comes. We should be doing this all year long.”

Another important area surveyors review is an organization’s safety culture, and reporting safety concerns is a vital part of that, said Eappen. He urged staff to report systems, processes and behaviors that could, or do, compromise care quality and safety.

“We want you to feel confident about reporting because we are working to move towards being a high-reliability organization,” he said. “The goal is to get to a point where we are incredibly proactive in thinking about ‘this could be a risk’ and fixing it, so we never have that safety event occur. This is the way the nuclear power and aviation industries work.”

Claire-Cecile Pierre, MD, associate chief medical officer and vice president of Community Health, provided an update on the Brigham’s latest community health needs assessment, a process the hospital is required to complete every three years.

Pierre explained that during the last assessment in 2019, several Boston-area hospitals recognized the opportunity to coordinate in a way that better served local communities and collaborated in conducting surveys, analyzing data and deciding how to allocate resources. The Brigham will build on the success of this strategy for 2022 by continuing to collaborate with other city hospitals and colleagues across Mass General Brigham, she added.

Lastly, the forum provided an opportunity for staff to ask questions, leading to discussions around issues such as staffing, compensation and diversity and inclusion.