Coaching ’em up: How safety coaches are improving the culture at Michigan Medicine

August 24, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Since our journey to becoming a highly reliable organization began in 2018, nearly all U-M Health staff have become trained to do their part in preventing errors and improving safety.

We utilize cross-checks and three-way repeat backs to watch out for each other and confirm a shared understanding of tasks. Time outs have helped clinical staff guarantee the right patient is receiving the right procedure.

In the end, skills such as these have allowed us to spot errors before they happen.

To ensure safety is at the forefront of care, it is important that all levels of staff continue using universal relationship and reliability skills and tools long after they have gone through HRO training.

That’s where HRO Safety & Reliability Coaches come in.

In October 2021, the first round of safety coaches was introduced. These trained staff work to reinforce HRO universal skills and provide support for their teams to use them in everyday work.

The number of coaches within the organization only continues to grow, with the number expected to double as the next cohort begins training in October. Currently, there are 24 safety coaches in Ambulatory Care and C&W, with an extension soon to reach the adult hospitals.

Fostering change

Even though the program is still expanding, current safety coaches have already made an impact in their departments.

Debbie Kollar, a coach in C&W radiology, has been a part of the program since its beginning stages and said she has already seen several positive changes.

“Staff feel more confident speaking up when they see a safety concern,” said Kollar. “They also like their stories being shared, and feel their voices are being heard and valued.”

Coaches provide positive feedback for their team members, focusing on what is being done correctly when it comes to safety, not just what needs to be fixed. They also help provide useful information relating to HRO work.

“Safety coaches are important for all staff, but also students coming through our department,” said April Stump, a coach in C&W respiratory therapy. “We hope they take the valuable information and universal skills with them wherever they go.”

A passion for safety

Both Kollar and Stump prioritize high reliability as a topic in their team meeting agendas and newsletters.

Additionally, Kollar has added HRO tools to her yearly valuations. She asks staff to provide a skill they used and share examples of when and how it was used.

As safety coaches find ways to incorporate HRO within their teams daily, the program continues to change. What began as a prescribed model for coaches to follow is now a matter of utilizing their safety knowledge and leadership as they see fit.

Safety coaches have volunteered for this role, but being a champion for safety and helping to minimize errors are big enough benefits for those involved.

“These coaches don’t do it for any incentive, they do it because they are passionate and love to help save lives,” said Kathrynn Thompson, high reliability lead at Michigan Medicine. “The work they are doing is tremendous, and we are unbelievably grateful for their contributions to our organization.”

If you are interested in learning more about the safety coach program or to inquire about the training in your area of the organization, check out The Wrap employee podcast at the top of the page or contact Kathrynn Thompson at