Category: Alumni at Work, Alumni Stories, Community Health, Health Magazine

Title:Advocating for patients

Author: By Bhriana Smith
Date Published: June 1, 2022
Colonel Steven Coffee, pictured here with his son Steven Coffee II, earned his Executive Master’s in Clinical Quality, Safety & Leadership, while deployed in Doha, Qatar. His Georgetown coursework was completely online.

Having grown up in Nashville in a single-parent home and worked his way up to becoming a senior officer in the United States Air Force, Colonel Steven Coffee (EMCQSL’21) is no stranger to confronting challenges. But his greatest life challenge arrived with the birth of his son, Steven Coffee II.

In October 2012, a military hospital dismissed parental concerns and misdiagnosed his three- week-old son’s low glucose and poor feeding as normal. In fact, his son had galactosemia, a metabolic blood condition that affects how the body breaks down the simple sugar galactose found in human and animal milk products. The following month, his son went into liver failure.

Shortly thereafter, Coffee’s son was sent to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where physicians rushed in and performed a life-saving liver transplant on the then eight-week- old baby, the youngest patient in America to have a successful transplant at that time.

Though Coffee and his family worked tirelessly to be present for their son during his healing process, there were obstacles regarding his son’s treatment along the way.

“I recall the day my son needed powdered soy milk,” shares Coffee. “The treating physician at the time explained that the hospital didn’t have it on hand, and there was a long process to acquire it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how something as essential to getting better—proper food and sustenance—was not available nor was there a mechanism in place to quickly procure this basic need.”

That’s when Coffee decided that he would become an advocate for patient quality and safety in health care. For the last nine years, he has worked toward improved patient safety as the first community chair of MedStar Health’s Patient and Family Advisory Council for Quality and Safety (PFACQ ), a team of national leaders in patient advocacy throughout MedStar Health hospitals.

In 2021, Coffee took part in the Executive Master’s in Clinical Quality, Safety & Leadership through Georgetown University Medical Center’s program in Biomedical Graduate Education, earning his degree while deployed in Doha, Qatar. The coursework was completely online.

“When I was deployed in December 2019, I was afraid I was going to have to stop taking classes,” he recalls. “But my professors were more than accommodating to my situation.”

Coffee co-founded the United States chapter of the World Health Organization’s Patients for Patient Safety (PFPS) initiative. He collaborated with another charter member, Armando Nahum, to create the Safe Care Campaign. The campaign educates internal and external stakeholders about sepsis, more commonly known as blood poisoning. It emerged from the experience of three members of the Nahum family developing infections while receiving care at three different hospitals in three different states. One of the three patients, Nahum’s son, died as a result of the blood infection.

He notes that diversity, inclusion, and representation are imperative when trying to determine community health. “The collective ‘we’ is how we will change medicine in this country.”

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