Virginia Mason Medical Center

Virginia Mason Medical Center

Virginia Mason Medical Center is an independent, private, non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington. Blackford, MD., who co-founded the clinic.Virginia Mason encompasses a multi-specialty group practice of more than 390 physicians, a 336-bed licensed acute care hospital, an internationally renowned research institute, an active philanthropic foundation, the Bailey-Boushay House, and a network of clinics throughout western Washington, with sports and occupational medicine facilities.The acute care hospital offers utmost care to the patients using the latest medical technology methods. The Bailey-Boushay House is a nationally recognized facility providing residential care and day health programs for AIDS patients.Virginia Mason Medical Center is the largest provider of primary care services for children in the Puget Sound region. The Benaroya Diabetes Center, the Floyd and Delores Jones Cancer Institute, the Heart Institute, and the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine (the Northwest’s regional referral center for hyperbaric medicine) are excellent facilities within the center.The Inn at Virginia Mason and Cassel Crag Apartments provide accommodations for visitors.As a teaching hospital, Virginia Mason Medical Center offers Graduate Medical Education postgraduate training programs and residency programs. Also, Continuing Medical Education and Continuing Nursing Education are provided.In addition, Virginia Mason is affiliated with other health care organizations in the region including Children’s Hospital anasond Regional Medical Center, Group Health Cooperative, Pacific Medical Centers, and St. Francis Hospital.

Starting the process for a request for Medical Records

To start the process you may write a letter, or if you prefer, you may use the Authorization for Disclosure Form.

If you choose to write a letter, it must include the following required elements:

  • Be in writing
  • Signed by the individual (patient)
  • Clearly identify the person designated to receive the records
  • Identify where to send the copy of protected health information

The medical use of pressurized oxygen predates the element’s discovery and recognition of its role in metabolism by European scientists in the 1770s. An English pastor and physician, the Rev. Henshaw, reportedly treated patients in a compressed air chamber as early as 1662, although his theory for such therapy is not recorded.

The French surgeon Fontaine built a pressurized operating room in 1879, and Dr. J. L. Corning introduced hyperbaric (high-pressure) treatment to the United States in 1891. After experimenting with hyperbaric oxygen to treat “Spanish Flu” victims at the end of World War I, Dr. Orville J. Cunningham constructed an 88-foot long chamber in Kansas City. He topped this in 1928 by building a 64-foot-diameter pressurized sphere containing six floors and 72 rooms.

These ambitious pioneers were hampered by a poor understanding of the actual physiological effects and benefits of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2). Research was spurred in part by the spread of professional and recreational scuba diving after World War II, and a corresponding rise in cases of “decompression disease.” This condition results when divers ascend too quickly, causing saturated nitrogen in their blood to gasify and form bubbles. These usually collect in the joints and make movement painful -- hence the name “the bends.” Victims are treated by repressurizing them in a chamber, which is then slowly decompressed to dissolve the bubbles.

The benefits of hyperbaric oxygen treatments in promoting healing after radiation therapy were noted in the 1950s. It was observed that the therapy accelerated the growth of capillaries and veins in damaged tissues, thereby speeding healing. The first scientific congress on HBO2 medicine was held in 1963 and the Undersea Society developed the first board-certification standards and exams for HBO2 specialists in 1976. Blue Cross/Blue Shield approved insurance reimbursement for the treatments the following year.

From the North Sea to the Northwest

Exploitation of oil reserves discovered in the North Sea off Scotland and Norway in the late 1960s required extremely deep dives to build and maintain drilling platforms. Oil companies made funds available for new research into the physiology of such dives and potential health hazards and treatments for divers.

Seattle has long been a center for both hard-hat and scuba diving, due in large part to the richness of Puget Sound’s marine ecology and its active maritime industries. Spurred by Dr. Merrill Spencer, Virginia Mason Medical Center sought and received funding for hyperbaric research with diving mammals. Drs. Kent Smith and Brian D’Aoust continued research into deep diving with government, military, and corporate funding. These grants were augmented by substantial gifts from donors such as John Lindbergh, son of the famed aviator and a noted deep-sea diver in his own right. Formally organized in 1969, Virginia Mason's Center for Hyperbaric Medicine has also enjoyed active participation and support from the national Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine Society, which has many members in Western Washington.

The Center began treating divers and other patients in a standard off-shore deck decompression chamber in 1969. In 1970, Virginia Mason added a four-patient chamber based on an off-shore saturation chamber design and built by Seattle Boiler Works. Rising demand led Virginia Mason to spend $7.1 million on the new Center, of which $4.5 million was raised through grants or donations. As of 2007, the Center operates the only multi-patient hyperbaric chambers north of Los Angeles and west of Denver.

We All Live in an Off-White Submarine

The new Center occupies 8,000 square feet in remodeled conference rooms and a former auditorium on the ground floor of Virginia Mason’s main hospital wing on Seattle’s First Hill. The spacious main room features comfortable waiting rooms for patients and family members, infirmaries, examination rooms, an impressive salt water aquarium, and a large control console resembling something one might find at Cape Kennedy. The main room is dominated by the large twin chambers, which form a cylinder 46 feet in overall length with an interior diameter of 10 feet, about the same size as a medium-sized airliner. Portholes and airlocks create the impression of a beached submarine or grounded spaceship.

The two main chambers can accommodate up to 16 seated patients (fewer on gurneys), plus two attendants. Patients typically sit in comfortable recliner chairs and breathe oxygen through clear plastic helmets, or “hoods,” during two-hour sessions called “dives.” The chambers can sustain maximum pressures equivalent to submerging 165 feet below sea level, or roughly five times the normal surface atmospheric pressure of about 15 pounds per square inch, although “dives” of 45 to 60 feet are the most common.

These pressures are generated by a complex system of compressors, tanks, and pipes in rooms adjacent to and below the chambers. It also features a fire suppression system that can flood the tanks in seconds. Because of the fire potential of the pure oxygen environment, special care is taken to exclude materials that might spark or fuel a fire. The chamber was designed and engineered by Reimer Systems of Springfield, Virginia, and the pressure vessels were fabricated locally by Seattle Boiler Works.

Hyperbaric treatments are currently (2007) supervised by a large team led by Dr. Neil Hampson and including physicians David Dabell, Tony Gerbino, Steven Kirtland, and Anne Mahoney. They are assisted by specially trained technicians and registered nurses, many of whom are divers. Douglas Ross, RN, provides advanced wound care to complement the treatments.

The Center is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to handle emergencies, and it routinely carries out 100 patient treatments a week. Its capacities were put to the test by severe local storms in December 2006, when it handled some 70 victims of carbon monoxide poisoning over a four-day period. These were chiefly newly arrived immigrants who had sought to stay warm during power outages and were unfamiliar with the dangers of using charcoal cookers and heaters in enclosed spaces. The incidents led to aggressive community education efforts.


Kelsey Millonig (2020), Stephanie Oexeman (2020), Amanda Kamery (2019), Mallory Schweitzer (2019), Anthony Romano (2018), Kaitlyn Ward (2018), Todd Chappell (2017), Christyn Marshall (2017), Casey Ebert (2016), David Larson (2016), Megan Wilder (2015), Nick Dang (2015), Kenneth Hegewald (2014), Scott Berg (2014), Sarah Shogren (2013), Sara Zelinskas (2013), Craig Clifford (2012), Kevin McCann (2012), Jarrod Smith (2011), Jeff Korab (2010), Christopher Bock (2009), Paul Scott (2007), Chris Taylor (2006), Stacey Perry (2005), Chad Farley (2004), Bryan Thompson (2003), Scott Smith (2002), Mark Lewis (2001), Kevin Koester (2000), Petrina Lewis (1999), Greg Poole (1998), Tyson Williams (1997), Suzanne Wilson (1996), Howard Cox (1995), Lisa Williams (1994), Paul Coulter (1993), Suzanne Wilson (1992), Terry Felts (1991)

Terrible Tragedy — and Powerful Legacy — of Preventable Death

The course of history for Virginia Mason was forever changed Nov. 23, 2004, when Mrs. Mary L. McClinton died due to a preventable medical error. Mrs. McClinton was 69 when she was treated for a brain aneurism at Virginia Mason yet was mistakenly injected with chlorhexidine, an antiseptic.

How could such an error happen? Confusion over the three identical stainless steel bowls in the procedure room containing clear liquids — chlorhexidine, contrast dye and saline solution.

There is no greater tragedy within a medical center than when a patient dies due to a preventable error. The terrible truth is that such deaths are not uncommon. The Institute of Medicine report, To Err Is Human (1999), estimated that as many as 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable errors.

The death of Mrs. McClinton was first and foremost a terrible tragedy for her family and community. She was a beloved, widely respected figure.

But her death was also the most severe test a medical center can face. The question became this: What do you do? What is your response to this unthinkable event?

Virginia Mason promptly disclosed the fact that a mistake had been made in Mrs. McClinton’s case that caused her death. It is a sad understatement to say that this level of transparency was — and for the most part, remains — rare in the world of health care. The disclosure ran directly counter to the cultures of secrecy in which many provider organizations have cloaked themselves.

Virginia Mason then took a radical step. It set aside its dozen or so organizational goals and declared that, going forward, it would have a single goal: To ensure the safety of our patients through the elimination of avoidable death and injury.

Safety remained the single annual organizational goal for three years after Mrs. McClinton’s death. During that time, Virginia Mason made quantum leaps forward in creating a safer environment. This work was and remains guided and inspired by the memory of Mrs. McClinton. “Her death galvanized us,” says Cathie Furman, RN, senior vice president of quality and compliance. “Our board said that if we cannot ensure safety of our patients we shouldn’t be in business.”

“On the one-year anniversary of her death, we came together as an organization to memorialize her,” says Furman. “Her family joined us that day, and we committed then to setting aside a day every year to reflect on improvement of the past year in her memory and honor. It is the single most important day of the year at Virginia Mason.”

The Mary L. McClinton Patient Safety Award is now the most coveted accolade at Virginia Mason. Teams compete for it each year by submitting a rigorous application describing their safety-related work. There is a set of explicit criteria and a scoring legend that a multidisciplinary selection committee uses to score each application. The award goes to the team that demonstrates its safety work is patient-centered, has applied the Virginia Mason Production system, has spread beyond a single work unit, has been sustained over time and been published or presented at regional or national conferences.

For all the improvement that has resulted from Mrs. McClinton’s death, there is a profoundly disturbing postscript that speaks to the culture of secrecy in so much of health care.

A month after Mrs. McClinton died, Furman received a call from a state health regulator. “She said every single hospital that they had surveyed in the month subsequent to Mrs. McClinton’s death told her they had had the exact same situation in the procedure room and changed their process as a result of the tragedy,” she says. “And we learned that another hospital had a similar error two years earlier and did not have the courage to be transparent about it. Just imagine if they had disclosed the error and we had been able to change our process back then.”

What does transparency at your organization look like when it comes to patient safety?

Latest News

LifeCenter Northwest is proud to announce that the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health system was recognized with 16 awards from LifeCenter Northwest’s 2020 Hospital Awards, which recognize excellence in supporting life-saving organ and tissue donation.

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Foundations of Process Improvement in Healthcare

Foundations of Process Improvement in Healthcare (Foundations of Lean in Healthcare) is a uniquely designed and facilitated 3-day interactive workshop takes process improvement (lean) learning to a new level of creative thinking and exploration.

Join a cohort of diverse health care professionals in an interactive learning experience that teaches the foundational elements, including various principles, methods and tools of the Virginia Mason Production System® from general to complex. Learn how to drive improvements that create value, eliminate waste and reduce staff’s burden of work. Participants will build observation skills, demonstrate a basic ability to apply process improvement tools and methods to a process, and describe the importance of thinking and acting in a lean framework.

This workshop will give you an understanding of:

  • Value-added processes and eliminating waste.
  • The VMPS® Flows of Medicine and how the concept of flow impacts processes and quality.
  • How to make improvements by focusing on the patient’s perspective.
  • The basic elements of mistake-proofing and how they can be applied to your clinic operations.

After this workshop you will be able to apply the tools of lean, as adapted into health care through the Virginia Mason Production System ® , and add value and solve common problems in your health care setting.

Who Should Attend:

Health care leaders and frontline staff at all levels can benefit from this foundational training experience, including those curious about learning lean concepts and methods.

Statement of common purpose

Our physicians and team members create healthier communities through healing the whole person — in mind, body and spirit.


As CommonSpirit Health, we make the healing presence of God known in our world by improving the health of the people we serve, especially those who are vulnerable, while we advance social justice for all.


A healthier future for all, inspired by faith, driven by innovation and powered by our humanity.






  • Serve with fullest passion, creativity and stewardship
  • Exceed expectations of others and ourselves


Strategic Priorities 2018-2020

The CHI Pacific Northwest Division will focus on quality, safety and exceptional experiences for our patients to position us as the premier health system in the Pacific Northwest. To achieve our priorities, we will:

  1. Deliver the best quality, safety and patient experience
  2. Be one Virginia Mason Franciscan Health
  3. Capture the hearts, minds and spirit of our health care team
  4. Be brilliant at the basics
  5. Transform our ministry to deliver value-based care
  6. Embrace our diverse communities to achieve optimal health and well-being

Getting Started

The six components of the value agenda are distinct but mutually reinforcing. Organizing into IPUs makes proper measurement of outcomes and costs easier. Better measurement of outcomes and costs makes bundled payments easier to set and agree upon. A common IT platform enables effective collaboration and coordination within IPU teams, while also making the extraction, comparison, and reporting of outcomes and cost data easier. With bundled prices in place, IPUs have stronger incentives to work as teams and to improve the value of care. And so on.

Implementing the value agenda is not a one-shot effort it is an open-ended commitment. It is a journey that providers embark on, starting with the adoption of the goal of value, a culture of patients first, and the expectation of constant, measurable improvement. The journey requires strong leadership as well as a commitment to roll out all six value agenda components. For most providers, creating IPUs and measuring outcomes and costs should take the lead.

As should by now be clear, organizations that progress rapidly in adopting the value agenda will reap huge benefits, even if regulatory change is slow. As IPUs’ outcomes improve, so will their reputations and, therefore, their patient volumes. With the tools to manage and reduce costs, providers will be able to maintain economic viability even as reimbursements plateau and eventually decline. Providers that concentrate volume will drive a virtuous cycle, in which teams with more experience and better data improve value more rapidly—attracting still more volume. Superior IPUs will be sought out as partners of choice, enabling them to expand across their local regions and beyond.

Maintaining market share will be difficult for providers with nonemployed physicians if their inability to work together impedes progress in improving value. Hospitals with private-practice physicians will have to learn to function as a team to remain viable. Measuring outcomes is likely to be the first step in focusing everyone’s attention on what matters most. All stakeholders in health care have essential roles to play. (See the sidebar “Next Steps: Other Stakeholder Roles.”) Yet providers must take center stage. Their boards and senior leadership teams must have the vision and the courage to commit to the value agenda, and the discipline to progress through the inevitable resistance and disruptions that will result. Clinicians must prioritize patients’ needs and patient value over the desire to maintain their traditional autonomy and practice patterns.

Next Steps: Other Stakeholder Roles

The transformation to a high-value health care delivery system must come from within, with physicians and provider organizations taking the lead. But every stakeholder in the health care system has a role to play in improving the value of care. Patients, health plans, employers, and suppliers can hasten the transformation by taking the following steps—and all will benefit greatly from doing so.

Providers that cling to today’s broken system will become dinosaurs. Reputations that are based on perception, not actual outcomes, will fade. Maintaining current cost structures and prices in the face of greater transparency and falling reimbursement levels will be untenable. Those organizations—large and small, community and academic—that can master the value agenda will be rewarded with financial viability and the only kind of reputation that should matter in health care—excellence in outcomes and pride in the value they deliver.

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