Arlington National Cemetery – 400,000 tombstones. Rows and rows of tombstones. It’s daunting, they just go on and on. It is so difficult to imagine that 400,000 people, heroes and their spouses, are buried here. There are so many tombstones. From the top of the hill at Arlington House, in almost every direction, the endless rows of white can be seen. 440,000 is the number of Americans who die as a result of medical harm – every year. They could fill Arlington National Cemetery – each year! They did not sign on to do something with the understanding that medical harm was an accepted risk. 440,000.
We need to work together to change this. We should think about the words of Robert Kennedy, found on the wall of his memorial at Arlington. Although they were spoken almost 50 years ago, well before the patient safety movement took shape, we can think of them in terms of patient safety and use them as inspiration for each of us as we go forward and engage in conversations and actions to end the needless deaths that result from medical harm.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy, South Africa, 1966