For close to three decades, the late Associate Professor Joseph Manuel Gomez dedicated his life to providing compassionate care to vulnerable premature and sick infants and their families at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
At the time of his passing in 2017, Assoc Prof Gomez had been serving as Head, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU); Director, Medical Informatics; and Chairman, Medication Safety Committee at KKH, working tirelessly to improve clinical quality and patient safety.
“Kind, gracious, and an exemplary role model, teacher and mentor to many, Assoc Prof Gomez made an impact on countless lives through his dedicated, compassionate care for the tiny, fragile premature infants and their families; as well as through his passionate advocacy for patient safety and clinical quality, shares Assoc Prof Chan Yoke Hwee, Chairman, Division of Medicine, KKH. “He remains close to our hearts and dearly missed.”
A familiar and reassuring figure in the NICU, Assoc Prof Gomez’s love and dedication for sick infants was evident in his unwavering commitment to their care. “To Assoc Prof Gomez, every baby is precious and he would always say that he will go all out to save a baby however he can,” recalls Assistant Director Nursing, Ms Annie Goh, who worked alongside Assoc Prof Gomez in the NICU for over 20 years.
“If a baby became very sick, he would stay by their bedside till they became better. If you had been the baby's parents, I think you would have felt assured that your baby was in good hands.”
A/Prof Gomez led the expansion of the KKH NICU into the largest state-of-the-art facility of its kind in Southeast Asia in 2013. To introduce life-saving interventions for vulnerable infants with complex conditions, he spearheaded several key initiatives, such as high frequency oscillatory ventilation and inhaled nitric oxide therapy, and the neonatal and paediatric Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) programme, which provides critical and life-sustaining heart and lung support for infants with heart failure.
He was also the primary KKH collaborator for the neo.nEURO.network trial on therapeutic whole body cooling for babies with neonatal Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy, setting the standard of care for babies at KKH who require whole body cooling.
Stalwart safety advocate
“Assoc Prof Gomez aspired to deliver the best care to every patient, benchmarked against international standards. Steady and systematic, he was always looking for better ways to improve clinical care outcomes based on accurate data collection and the latest evidence-based guidelines,” shares Dr Chua Mei Chien, Head, Department of Neonatology, KKH.
Ms Pang Nguk Lan, Director, Quality, Safety and Risk Management, KKH, agrees.
“When it came to safety, there was no compromise with Assoc Prof Gomez. He would frequently conduct spontaneous audits of daily processes in the NICU. After which, he would lead the team in brainstorming areas for review and improvement for better staff and patient safety,” says Ms Pang. “He never looked to fault-find, but led us in considering how to resolve issues at the core and improve our systems of care.”
“Although he was a gentle and humble man, Assoc Prof Gomez was very strict about upholding hand hygiene practices to ensure a sterile and clean environment for the babies in the NICU,” reminisces Ms Goh.
“He was very meticulous in hand washing and hand hygiene, and often stood with his arms folded in the NICU to avoid touching the babies and equipment unnecessarily. We liked to tease him about looking like Sir Stamford Raffles' statue, but we understood that he did this to protect the babies.”
“Under Assoc Prof Gomez’s guidance, we were able to maintain a zero sepsis rate in very low birth weight infants in the NICU,” adds Dr Quek Bin Huey, Head, NICU, KKH.
“Assoc Prof Gomez always strived towards zero morbidity, and he always led by example.”
Champion for clinical quality
Serving as Director, Medical Informatics at KKH (2009-2017), Assoc Prof Gomez led the implementation of the Closed Loop Medication Management (CLMM) and Inpatient Pharmacy Automation System to revolutionise the hospital’s inpatient medication and administration process.
“It was truly enjoyable working alongside Assoc Prof Gomez on the implementation of the CLMM,” shares Ms Irene Quay, Head, Pharmacy Department. “He united the various healthcare disciplines with the common vision of harnessing automation technology to improve healthcare efficiency, and elevating patient safety with a systems approach."
As advisor to the Nursing Informatics workgroup, Assoc Prof Gomez provided guidance on improving communication and clinical workflows across medical specialties. He was instrumental in the implementation of a digitised medical records system at KKH.
“He was a leader who believed and dared to dream for better care, leveraging on information technology,” shares Serene Chin, Deputy Director, Integrated Health Information Systems. “We will continue to live the legacy of the learning and blameless culture that he had advocated.”
Generous with his time and knowledge, Assoc Prof Gomez was extensively involved in teaching medical students, nurses and advanced specialist trainees in the NICU.
"As a mentor, Assoc Prof Gomez was not only concerned about imparting medical knowledge to his students, but also teaching them the right values. He was serious with the students, but also soft-spoken and patient, and would go the extra mile to explain in great detail,” shares Ms Goh. “As a result, the medical students were always comfortable with him.”
Dedicated to improving neonatal and perinatal care, Assoc Prof Gomez also visited many hospitals in Southeast Asia to conduct training in neonatology, medication safety and quality improvement. He was also an active member of the Singapore International Foundation Singapore Volunteer Overseas Programme.