WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio –
“I remember hearing something from my sergeant in tech school and it just clicked in my head right away,” Airman Justin Morris said, reflecting on working sick call one day as a dental assistant technician apprentice, preparing to go through a set of sterilized mouth mirrors as care providers worked their way through examining Airmen.
“He said ‘One sterilization kit should only be used on one patient,’ that’s how I think as well,” Morris said. “One thing on one person. You don’t use it on another person.”
The “one thing” Morris is referring to is a sterilized tool kit. The kit, at the time, was made up of multiple mirrors, all sterilized at the same time and enclosed onto the same tray. As a patient was examined, the tray was uncovered, a mirror was removed and then the kit was re-covered. The next patient would come in to be examined, the tray was uncovered, another mirror was removed and then re-covered. It was a process repeated over and over again until the kit’s supply of mirrors was exhausted.
Morris said the procedure didn’t feel right to him.
“It [didn’t] make sense reopening this kit if I needed to treat one patient,” Morris said.
Morris said his concern was for the potential of cross-contamination from one patient to the next as the kit was opened and closed multiple times. So, he brought his concern to his supervisor’s attention, who, through his chain of command, brought it to the attention of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency. They agreed with Morris and have changed the way kits are assembled throughout the Air Force.
Morris was named an Air Force Medical Services’ Trusted Care Hero for his efforts. Trusted Care is a cultural shift program for AFMS, focusing on patient and worker safety, according to Senior Master Sgt. Holly Roschel, 88 MDG Clinical Dentistry flight chief (outgoing). The Trusted Care Hero recognition highlight’s individual Airman’s contribution to AFMS’s journey to Zero Harm.
“He was chosen when he identified an issue with the way our dental mirrors were sterilized,” Roschel said. “He utilized the Trusted Care (CUS) Tool, meaning he had a Concern, he was Uncomfortable and he Stopped the line. By using this error prevention behavior, he was able to prevent a possible patient safety incident and improve the quality of care delivered at the 88th Medical Group.”
After being selected at the squadron level, Morris went on to compete and win at the group and major command level before winning the Air Force-level recognition. Those that work with Morris say the recognition is well-deserved.
“Airman Morris' work ethic is second to none,” Master Sgt. Taymi Moore, 88 MDG Clinical Dentistry flight chief (incoming) said. “His dedication to the mission and the team is remarkable. Airman Morris reports to work by 6 a.m. every duty day to ensure that everything is operational. He ensures that his records are pulled and everything is good to go prior to seeing patients at 7:30 a.m. He is also one of the last people to leave for the day. It says a lot about his integrity, values and commitment to the mission. I was not surprised.”
Morris credits his late great-grandfather and Korean War veteran, Charles Massott, for both his service and his drive.
“My great grandfather was an Airmen; he was in the Air Force. He died two Octobers ago,” Morris said. “He was just a man who knew his stuff. He always had stability in his life and he said the Air Force really gave him that. And, I guess that’s why I appreciated him. He was my inspiration, a really big [influence] on my life. I just wanted to make him proud.”
Due to Morris’ diligence, sterilized kits are now comprised of an assortment of tools for use on one patient only. Each tool kit is only used for one patient, eliminating one source of possible cross-contamination, according to Moore.
“Due to his observations, we have streamlined our instrument sterilization process. His actions have positively impacted dental clinics Air Force-wide,” Moore said. “He is well poised and mature, with a thirst for knowledge and desire for a challenge, and always looks out for his teammates.”
Morris says that he’s taking the recognition in stride and staying focused on what he feels are the important things.
“Always being a better person is key. I never try to treat anybody wrong. It’s not who I strive to be,” Morris said. “Being a better person to me is making sure everybody’s well-being is o.k., taking initiative and seeking out higher opportunities to seek better care for someone else.”