Dave Mayer of Peoria

Dave Mayer of Peoria is walking in honor of those who have died “from preventable harm.” 

Each year, more than 200,000 people die unnecessarily in U.S. hospitals. Worldwide, 4.8 million lives are lost. The Patient Safety Movement Foundation (PSMF) is a global nonprofit organization offering free tools to help achieve zero preventable deaths from hospital errors. 

Dr. Dave Mayer, executive director of MedStar Institute and CEO of the PSMF, has walked 369 miles over 128 hours and taken 1,054,740 steps in Arizona to raise awareness about the health care safety crisis in America.

“During this global pandemic, the health of our caregivers and patients are being compromised as they continue to combat COVID-19,” Mayer said. “Patient and provider safety is pivotal to improving patient outcomes.”

Mayer, a retired anesthesiologist and longtime leader in patient safety issues, recently celebrated his 10-week anniversary of walking in the Valley of the Sun. He’s training for a nine-day trek beginning May 22 at Sloan Park (the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs). His route hits all nine MLB Cactus League stadiums and Chase Field, ending full circle on May 30 when he crosses home plate—the designated finish line totaling 125 miles. 

It’s easy to recognize Mayer as he trains for the big day. He’s dressed in a Cubs T-shirt, black workout pants and a blue Cubs World Series cap. If you happen to catch a glimpse of his left ankle tattoo, you’ll notice a Cubs logo with the exact date and time player Anthony Rizzo caught the final out winning the team’s first World Series in over a century. Mayer smiled as he talked about his favorite movie, “Field of Dreams,” and quoted a line from it, “The one constant throughout the years has been baseball. … It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

Sports, especially baseball, has always played a large part in Mayer’s life. His father took him to his first Cubs game at Wrigley field when he was 5 years old. His children often say, “If Chicago had a pingpong team, you’d be going to matches and cheering them on.”

Mayer, now retired from clinical practice and living in Peoria, decided to take the nine-day challenge and walk 125 miles as a way to support his hero colleagues on the front lines and raise awareness about patient and caregiver safety. He compares baseball to a slow-paced walk. “For three to four hours, I just check out and find peace and relaxation. Walking from stadium to stadium is my way of connecting two loves—medicine and baseball.”

According to Mayer, medical errors in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the United States, just behind heart disease and cancer. Globally it is believed that medical errors kill more people than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. He believes this is the perfect time to spark the debate over patient and caregiver safety issues.

“I’m always amazed that it takes a crisis like the current coronavirus to realize who our heroes are—nurses, physicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, firefighters and policemen,” Mayer said. “I’m walking for all of them.” 

Mayer’s original plan, before the pandemic, was to partner with the WHO to march   through the streets of Washington, D.C., on September 17 with 100,000 people honoring health care workers and family members. 

Each of Mayer’s daily training walks is in memory of patients and caregivers who lost their lives due to medical error, which includes caring for someone with COVID-19.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something for those who have died from preventable harm.” According to Mayer, many health care workers put their lives at risk without the necessary arsenal; the right gear, needed equipment and adequate testing. “So much of this could have been prevented had we acted sooner.”

Mayer is used to walking alone, waving to neighbors and others along the way. During the last four weeks, he’s seen the number of walkers go up fivefold. “Everyone is amazing with social distancing,” Mayer said. “The paths I walk are not switchbacks. I purposely choose routes where people can easily move onto rocks or cross a street to keep 10 feet apart from one another.”

Come walk with Mayer, even if it’s virtual, down your street or within your community. “We need to raise awareness of patient caregiver deficits and improve patient outcomes,” Mayer said. “Like Forrest Gump, I’m not going to stop walking until people start acting.”

Dave Mayer

@WalkforPtSafety on Twitter