Making tomorrow’s history today

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemDuring a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

The janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

I love this story! Obviously, the janitor understood the importance of his contribution. He truly felt he was a valuable part of something bigger than himself, and his attitude created a feeling of self-confidence in his mission. He wasn’t merely a janitor; he was a member of the 1962 NASA Space Team!

Next Saturday, February 13, the Health System will conduct the Mock Patient Move to Jennie Sealy Hospital. Patient care teams have been meticulously rehearsing the details of each patient move, and on that day, with the help of volunteers who will act in the role of “patients”, care teams will rehearse the actual patient move that will occur on April 9. Meanwhile, since the hospital reached substantial completion last month, teams from nearly every department across the organization have played a key role in preparing the hospital to receive its first patients.

In addition to the individuals who are tasked with specific jobs to help prepare the hospital and work through the steps of the patient move, the enthusiasm of everyone across the organization, from staff to physicians to students, is palpable. Everyone wants to help take part in the mock move rehearsals, dedication events and opening day!

The new hospital is beautiful, and in many ways, the significance of its opening parallels putting a man on the moon, because of the incredible teamwork, time, dedication and effort of so many people who have truly worked together to work wonders. It is something we have awaited with great anticipation, and the moment is nearly here.

No matter how large or small your role, whether you are an employee, a student, a clinician or researcher, a donor or a community member, you are contributing to the larger story of UTMB’s history, its resilience, its future, and its important role in the Houston-Galveston region. Together, we are making tomorrow’s history today!


View Jennie Sealy Hospital from John Sealy Plaza. Photo by Christian von Eschenbach


Jennie Sealy Hospital: Opening Soon!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Monday, January 18, I received a message from Mike Shriner, Vice President of Business Operations and Facilities, confirming that the Jennie Sealy Hospital had reached substantial completion. He also confirmed that all of the life safety and mechanical systems had been tested and passed inspection. Substantial completion is a big deal in a construction project, because it is the day that responsibility for the building changes from being that of the contractor to that of the owner. Jennie Sealy Hospital is now officially UTMB’s! I breathed a sigh of relief when I received this text, because it means we are in the home stretch to opening the building for our patients and their families.

Jennie Sealy Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony, April 20, 2012

Jennie Sealy Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony, April 20, 2012

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tour the new facility with the Board of Directors of The Sealy & Smith Foundation, who generously contributed $170 million toward the construction of the new hospital. A little less than four years ago, on April 20, 2012, we broke ground on the new hospital together, so it was quite an experience for all of us to finally be inside of the building. Although access to the hospital is still restricted and the building is not open to staff for tours until February 25, I can share that it is a very exciting experience to finally stand inside UTMB’s beautiful new hospital, and the reality that we will soon be welcoming our first patients on April 9, 2016 has really set in!

The day of our tour, the building was teeming with activity. One of the first things I observed were workmen who were going through the punch lists. Punch lists are documents that list small (and sometimes a little bigger) corrections or repairs that need to be made before the building can be occupied. Seeing this activity reminded me of the time my family built our home in Wisconsin. Before we moved in, we walked through the house and used blue tape to mark areas where additional work was needed—on walls, doors and tiles, we had blue tape everywhere from floor to ceiling! We were so excited about finally moving into our new home.

Other workmen throughout the hospital were busy hanging artwork. We developed a small committee to choose the art, and we spent hours doing so. When we chose the different pieces, we made our selections with patients and visitors in mind. Our goal was to create a welcoming environment by providing a connection to nature. Because the hospital is located on Galveston Island, we chose a coastal theme. When you see the art, you will recognize that many of the images depict scenery around the island; in fact, 20% of the collection was purchased from local artists.

As a lover of art and as someone married to an artist, I appreciate how much art can define a space and give it a sense of character. Much of the art selection process was conducted online, so when I finally had the chance to see everything we had selected hung on the wall, I was amazed by how it transformed the space. I was struck by how the pieces were so beautifully illuminated by the natural light in the foyer, creating a very calm and relaxing atmosphere. I definitely have some favorite pieces, and I’m so excited for you all to see them, too. I will be interested to know what your favorites are when you have the chance to tour the hospital.

Throughout the tour, I was very impressed with the new workspaces and how well they are designed to support the work we do. Between every two patient rooms, there is a work area that gives clinicians a direct line of sight to the patient. Each unit also has an employee break room, and there are spaces on each floor for teaching rounds or small meetings. Each patient room has a space for the care team to work and access a computer. There is also an area for the family members to sit and, if they wish, use a laptop or do work on the sofa. If a family member or friend would like to stay overnight in the room with the patient, the sofa turns into a twin-sized bed, and there is a small television in the visitor alcove that allows them to watch television without disturbing the patient.

I must admit, however, that the best part of the hospital is the breathtaking view of the Gulf of Mexico from the patient rooms. I am convinced that these views alone will provide a sense of calm that will contribute positively to the experience of patients and their families and will help the healing process.


I am so excited for our patients, visitors and you to see and work in this space. I arrived at UTMB one year after Hurricane Ike, and I know so many of you were here before, during and after the storm. You all helped make it possible for UTMB to rebound and become the incredible organization it is. As I look at the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, I recall so many of the stories I heard about the struggle to get the support to rebuild UTMB on the island. I recall stories of people who told UTMB President Dr. David Callender that it would not be possible to rebuild the campus and that UTMB should be closed.

Texas Governor Rick Perry signing House Bill 4586 (photo compliments of the Governor’s Office)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signing House Bill 4586 (photo compliments of the Governor’s Office)

Despite the challenges faced, UTMB’s importance to the state was recognized and it was decided that the Galveston campus would be rebuilt. In July 2009, the UTMB community and its supporters watched the historic moment when Texas Governor Rick Perry signed House Bill 4586, the supplemental appropriations bill that included $150 million in funding to help the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston recover from Hurricane Ike.

As I look out my office window at the Jennie Sealy Hospital today, I am reminded that this hospital is a symbol of the resilience, tenacity and hard work of so many people at UTMB, of the Galveston community, and many individuals across the State of Texas who never gave up on UTMB Health. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to create the new Jennie Sealy Hospital. It will be an honor to care for our patients and their families in this beautiful new facility.

The New Jennie Sealy Hospital - Opening April 9, 2016

The New Jennie Sealy Hospital – Opening April 9, 2016

Employee Tours of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital will be held Thursday, February 25, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. More information on the opportunity to tour will be available to you in the next few weeks.


Home is where the heart is, even if you can’t remember which box you packed it in.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAlthough my life does not reflect it, I hate moving. About 27 years ago, my husband and I moved to a new house. I was thrilled. We would have enough room for our growing family, and we would have additional rooms and storage space to put “our stuff”. I was so certain that this was going to be our “forever” home that I told the realtor I knew the last vehicle in which I would exit the home’s driveway would be an ambulance or a hearse. That was nine moves ago!

Right now in my UTMB office suite, we are getting ready to move to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital. In preparation, I am going through all of the things in my office that have accumulated over the years. Each time I do this, I am always amazed at how much “stuff” one can acquire in a few short years! William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So, I am using this as an opportunity to “repack my bags and lighten my load” before our move at the end of February.

As we prepare to open our new hospital for patients and their families, and as UTMB’s growth continues on and off the island, many of you will also soon move into new workspaces. I have always felt that moving into a new space is an exciting experience—it can even feel like a new beginning. While it is exciting, there are aspects of moving into a new workspace that I find closely parallel with getting ready to move into a new home:

  1. Just like moving to a newly constructed home, we have to walk through the new hospital building and do a “punch list”. That means many people in Business Operations & Facilities and Health System Administration will spend time looking for things in the building that need to be corrected, such as anything that is not constructed as it should have been, any incidental damages to existing finishes, and any mechanical or electrical installations that aren’t properly functioning. Those findings are then shared with the contractor, so they can fix everything before staff and patients move into the building.
  2. We need to go through our belongings and decide what we need to move, what we will leave behind and what should be thrown away. This is a process that is not always as easy as it sounds! When it comes to moving from one house to another, my advice as an experienced mover is to start early enough that you have time to carefully sort through things. The process always goes quickly at first, but as you get to the point of sorting through odds and ends, it can seem like it takes ages. Meanwhile, we have to plan so that we don’t pack things we need in order to continue doing our necessary work. I remember during one of my family’s moves, we started running out of time. We were fortunate to have the help of movers to pack for us, but when I unpacked at the new house, I found a bunch things like expired coupons neatly wrapped, taped, and moved from Wisconsin to Texas!
  3. We need to decide where we want to place our furniture, supplies and belongings. Getting unpacked and organized is the next step. It may take a while to get a feel for the space and to know how to make it both comfortable and functional. We will need to decide where we want to place the things we know we will use a lot, as well as items that are not used as frequently, and make sure everything is stored properly. We want to be able to work as efficiently and safely as possible in our new workspaces.
  4. We need to settle in! When I move into a new home, I wait a while before I begin contacting plumbers, electricians and handypersons to do each repair job I have discovered. I know from my own experience over the years that it is necessary to spend a little time actually living in the home before all of the things that need to be repaired reveal themselves. As sure as I come across the first item that needs attention, I will uncover yet another the following week, and perhaps even a third or more in the weeks to come. As a homeowner, it is not economical to set up an appointment for each and every project as they surface, because one must pay a service charge for each visit. Instead, I wait about three months, put together my list, and then engage the appropriate worker(s). That saves money and time. Moving into our new hospital home should be similar. This means we will not initiate change orders and work orders for about 90 days, unless of course there are safety issues. Why do we wait 90 days? It gives us a chance to work in our space and see if we can come up with effective solutions on our own. It also gives us an opportunity to prepare a complete and comprehensive list of exactly what is needed, versus what we can make work efficiently and safely.

The Jennie Sealy Hospital is the first brand new hospital for UTMB since the John Sealy Hospital was established in 1978. This is an exciting time for us. It symbolizes the resilience and resurgence of UTMB following Hurricane Ike and our future as a leading academic medical center in the region, the state and the nation. We have a new home in our UTMB community!


The Scenery You Miss

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ~Eddie Cantor

Earlier this week, I was having a very busy day. It was already past noon, and I was between meetings with just enough time to walk over to the cafeteria from my office, grab a sandwich and run back to my office to eat it. However, when I arrived at Café on the Court, it looked like everyone else on campus had the exact same schedule as I did – it was packed! All of the lines to the cashiers were long, and I started to grow concerned that I might not get back to my office in time for the meeting, let alone to eat my lunch. My mood started to sink.

I recently learned there is a slang word for feeling hungry and grumpy at the same time: “Hangry”! It’s a funny word that can surely only be found in an urban dictionary, but no matter what you call it, we’ve all experienced that overwhelming irritability that takes over when we’ve gone too long without food. Turns out, there is actually some science behind it – skipping meals can trigger us to feel overwhelmed with feelings. It’s exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

As I hurriedly made my way to exit the cafeteria, I was approached by Dr. Belinda Escamilla, director of Radiology Services. “Hi, Donna,” she said. “I know you’re very busy, but do you have a minute?” All I could do was think about my lunch and my next meeting. I honestly did not think I could last another hour on an empty stomach. True, it was my fault – I had done what we are always told not to do – I had skipped breakfast. Unfortunately, I felt as though my body language might be communicating my distraction to Belinda.

“I want to introduce you to this gentleman, Tommy,” she continued. Tommy wore a navy blue shirt and a badge with a “C” on it, which told me he was a contract maintenance worker. “Last week in your Friday Flash Report, you wrote about Random Acts of Kindness, and how it should be a goal in 2016 to try and do one random act of kindness daily for someone. Well, I just observed Tommy talking to the cashier, pointing out five different people – he was paying for everyone’s meals!”

Tommy explained that this was just something he liked to do. Even when eating out, he said he sometimes likes to leave a generous tip for the wait staff. I knew this was true of him, because he didn’t realize anyone was watching him and had just demonstrated his generosity! I thought about what a kind gesture this was.

As I walked back to my office, with plenty of time to eat, I started feeling a little guilty. I had so many things on my mind in that moment in the cafeteria, and I was so worried about all the things I had to do that afternoon, I had forgotten to be in the present moment. I had forgotten to simply take a minute for someone else! By the time I arrived at my office, I felt I needed to immediately call Belinda to thank her for the introduction and to apologize if I had seemed anything less than engaged in our conversation.

I suspect that most of us have probably been at fault for this sort of thing at one time or another in our lives. We often become so wrapped up in what we are doing that we fail to realize that stress shows, and it can affect our body language, demeanor, and sometimes even the way we treat others. What is worse, it can cause us to overlook really important things, such as a patient in need of assistance or a broken piece of equipment. It may cause us to take a shortcut that could end up harming ourselves or someone else. It can even result in a missed opportunity to show kindness and compassion to someone else—such a brief interaction, missed or taken, could impact another person in either a very positive or negative way.

I needed the lesson to remind me that in order to make a positive impact, I should always try to take advantage of opportunities I’m given to help and show support for others. Instead of thinking about the afternoon ahead of me and what I needed to do, I should have been thinking about the great opportunity I had in the present to talk to and meet some incredible people! To fully live our value of compassion, we need to see the need that is before us and meet it. We need to recognize others and the work that they do. Yesterday was a good reminder for me that I needed to live this value more fully by staying engaged in the present when I am out and about and have the opportunity to meet and talk to some amazing people – like you!

A book I read a while back called “Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life” says that sometimes the things we think we need to carry around with us are unnecessary. We become so consumed by thinking about the weight of our “backpack” that we forget to look at the world with a sense of curiosity and a feeling of wonder – or in my case, I almost forgot the importance of slowing down so that I could give my full attention to meeting a very kind, generous person and to show my appreciation for the director who simply didn’t want me to miss an opportunity to meet a wonderful person. Thanks, Belinda Escamilla, for making sure I did not miss out!


Constant kindness can accomplish much.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn October 2015, I wrote about an experience I had one day in the drive-through at McDonald’s. That afternoon, I had been the recipient of a random act of kindness when the person in the vehicle ahead of me surprised me by paying for my order. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened to me, and it touched me so deeply that I felt compelled to share the story in Friday Flash. At the end of that post, I welcomed all of you to also share examples with me of a time when you had either shared or received a similar act of kindness in your life. A number of people responded to that request, and in the spirit of the New Year, I would like to share some of the uplifting stories I received.

One individual wrote to me about her nephew, whose child suffers from chronic liver disease. Due to the family’s escalating medical bills, their financial situation is very difficult. One day, the family was shopping for a new bed at a local store. “My nephew explained to his young son that they were just shopping around that day, but after pay day the following week, they would purchase his son’s new bed,” she wrote. “My great nephew, a very wise five-year-old, responded that he understood it was because of his sister’s illness.” Meanwhile, a stranger who had overheard their conversation motioned for a sales clerk. She told the clerk that she would take the same bed that the boy liked as well as the best mattress in stock, and asked for the merchandise to be taken to the front of the store so she could pay for it. As the family left the store, they discovered the new bed was already in their truck, paid for by a stranger and ready to take home! This random act of kindness so deeply impacted this individual’s family that they all vowed to do at least one random act of kindness daily as a way of repaying the stranger’s kindness and generosity.

A clinical educator shared her story. “I had picked up my 88-year old mother from the rehab hospital to take her home. We stopped at a local restaurant and ordered our meals and drinks. That day we also ordered desserts, which we don’t usually. When I asked for the ticket, the waitress replied, ‘It has already been paid for by a lady who checked out. She was sitting a couple of tables away.’ We were so surprised and grateful! I wanted to find this individual and say thank you, but there was no way to know who she was. I still remember that day and her act of kindness. Knowing there are still kind people in the world softens the heart.”

An employee in Correctional Managed Care wrote to me about her story. “It happened this morning as I was coming into the Cotulla Unit to help out. A lady correctional officer met me outside and told me that she had seen me on Facebook and had read about my graduation from Breast Cancer Reconstruction. She told me how proud she was of me. She even knew me by my name, and I don’t even know her. I thought that was so sweet, it just made my day.”

Finally, a manager at UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus shared her story. “I experienced an act of kindness a few weeks back at Chick-fil-A. When I got to the window to pay for my order, I was told that my meal had been paid for and was handed a note that said ‘Pay it Forward. God Bless.’ I then paid for the person in line behind me and wrote the same note to give to them. As I drove off, I wondered how long that kind gesture would keep paying forward! My husband and I will often pay for someone’s food when we go out to eat; it is a great feeling to see the smile on their faces. My husband believes random acts of kindness will return tenfold.”

As I read these stories and contemplated my own experience, I wondered what would happen if we each decided to do something kind and unexpected every day in 2016. An act of kindness need not require a great deal of effort or even cost a dime—a simple smile, an offer to help a patient or visitor get to the place they need to go, or surprising a co-worker with thank you note or “pat on the back” can truly make a difference in someone’s day. We can do this for anyone we sense could use a little more kindness!

I am told that when we do something kind for someone else, it improves the life of the receiver as well as the life of the giver. Kindness is contagious, and giving increases our happiness, fulfillment and purpose in life. Albert Schwitzer said it best: “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.” Let’s make spreading kindness and compassion our mission at UTMB Health in 2016, and best wishes to all in the New Year!


An Early Lesson in Leadership

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemQuite a few years ago, my university alma mater asked me to speak on the topic of leadership and how, throughout the course of my career, I had honed my leadership skills. I began my presentation with an experience I had as a nine-year-old. Sharing this story that evening was especially significant because the main characters of the story, my brother and sister, were both sitting in the audience.

Growing up, my family lived in Paris, Illinois, which is a fairly small town in the central part of the state. There weren’t many organized activities for children, and my mother was often busy caring for my younger siblings, so I learned to keep myself entertained. This particular year, I had resourcefully used my time to orchestrate an illustrious plan—my sister, brother and I would put on a holiday variety show for my parents and grandparents. It would debut the evening of December 24.

I excitedly began production, armed with a hand crank Singer sewing machine and lots of crepe paper. I created costumes for my sister, brother and myself. Then, with a little construction paper and poster board, I built the scenery backdrop. I handcrafted the programs, wrote the script, selected songs we each would sing, and choreographed a dance number for the three of us to perform. I even made special invitations, which I mailed to my grandparents and hand-delivered to my parents.

With all of the groundwork for the project complete, I approached my brother and sister with my wonderful plan. Up until this point, I had not involved them in any of the preparation, so they had no idea what they were in for. It was at that moment that I learned something very important. Working by myself was easy. The hard part was engaging my sister and brother in the plan.

As I excitedly told them everything I had planned for the three of us, they did not seem especially thrilled with any of it, and they resisted my attempts to rehearse. After some unsuccessful attempts, however, I was able to entice them into participating. The price? I had to walk with them afterwards to the neighborhood store and buy them candy with my allowance. Having secured such a rewarding business deal, they were suddenly much more enthusiastic, and they put their heart and soul into the rehearsal. When we were finished, I fulfilled my end of the bargain. Maybe winning them over wasn’t so hard after all!

But on the night of the big performance, my sister dropped out. She claimed she was “sick”. To this day, I am not certain I believe that. Nonetheless, she sat in my mother’s lap the entire evening. I think she even fell asleep! Meanwhile, my brother participated but showed little enthusiasm for his role. I, on the other hand, delivered a stellar performance and ended with a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

Reflecting on this story many years later, I find amusement by the fact that it revealed several valuable lessons on leadership:

  1. Anyone has the capacity to lead. You don’t have to have a impressive title to be “authorized” to take the lead in situations that need attention or resolution. For example, if there is equipment that is not working properly, you can take the lead to report it and follow through to make sure it is fixed. If there is a patient that needs assistance, even if you are not the nurse, patient care technician or medical assistant assigned to the patient, you can still make sure that person gets what he/she needs. In most cases, leadership is really local and informal.
  2. Most acts of leadership require the engagement of others in the development of the plan, because you will need those individuals to execute the plan. I have often wondered what the outcome of my holiday production would have been if I had engaged my brother and sister in my plans. If I had involved them more, letting them help with the costumes, scenery and program, and if I had shown appreciation for their contributions, maybe they would have been more supportive and as excited as I was. Over the years, I have learned that the more leadership engages the individuals who are ultimately affected by a project during the planning process, the easier and more efficient the plan is to implement, and the stronger its end result. I believe this sort of inclusive thinking is important at UTMB, especially when projects impact our providers, clinicians and staff who work on the frontlines of patient care.
  3. Informal leaders rely on open communication, a shared vision, and often, charisma. Looking back on this experience from my childhood, I now know that my plans were not openly communicated. There was no shared vision, and as far as charisma to motivate the group goes, I failed miserably in that department, too.
  4. Informal leaders lead by example and through the strength of their character. In this instance, I wanted my brother and sister to enthusiastically perform, but the example with which I led was “I will develop the plans, and you will follow.” That is hardly a recipe for leadership success! Marshall Goldsmith, a noted speaker and writer on leadership who I also mentioned in last week’s report, reminds us that not only is it possible for leaders to sometimes add too much value, thus stifling group collaboration and creativity, but it is also important that they give everyone on the team a chance to stay informed of the plan’s status; otherwise, whatever is being planned is still only the leader’s vision, and those who are being asked to carry out the work may lose their enthusiasm.
  5. Informal leaders are often more strongly committed to the group, because they are part of it on a daily basis. As formal leaders, we rely on informal leaders at all levels of the organization in order to effectively execute big plans and help achieve high-level goals. As informal leaders, we have a responsibility to our group to align our work in a way that supports and helps achieve those organizational goals. That is one reason why the Weekly Relay messages are so important—they create a forum that provides important organizational information to all employees and faculty, and they also encourage feedback from staff that should be relayed back to leadership. Two-way communication is a vital part of successfully carrying out plans.

This childhood experience taught me the five leadership lessons above. In my experience as a nine-year-old planning a big holiday production for my family, I had thought I was being a great leader; however, my brother and sister have always been quick to point out that I was simply “bossy”. Oh my, what an eye-opener!

John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” As we go about our work, let’s be the best informal or formal leaders we can be so that we assure our patients and families always get the care and compassion they need. It is only through engaging everyone that UTMB can achieve the clearly articulated goals of the “The Road Ahead.”


Simple solutions are seldom simple.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAlfred North Whitehead, a noted English mathematician and philosopher, once said, “Simple solutions are seldom simple.” This quote resonates with me, particularly as I think about the work I have done throughout my career in health care. I am struck by how often something has sounded simple, but once I started digging a little deeper into the issue, I found that reaching a solution was not simple at all. In fact, solving the “simple” problem often involved days of work, discussions with many people, and a thorough review of what others had already done to ultimately solve the problem.

From my experience in solving many of these “simple” problems, a couple of effective strategies have surfaced over the years. These approaches have made reaching solutions easier and in the long run, have resulted in relatively successful outcomes. I hope that as an organization, we can apply these methods to solving a problem we face today: our quest to reduce hospital-acquired infections through the “simple” act of improving hand hygiene compliance.

It sounds like a pretty easy solution to use alcohol-based sanitizing gel or to wash our hands each time we enter and exit a patient’s room, doesn’t it? However, we have discovered that the act of washing our hands, just like our mothers always told us, is something easier said than done! UTMB is still struggling to get all of our physicians, nurses and staff to perform at the current target of 90% hand hygiene compliance, let alone reach 100% compliance. Although we all agree that we should be at 100%, we haven’t been able to move the needle—so what will that take?

So far at UTMB, we have attempted to solve the issue of hand hygiene using an overall institutional approach. Although we have made some considerable improvements from where we started several years ago, this year we have hit a plateau that continues to hover below our goal. Despite a new communications campaign and reinvigorated training efforts, we have made very little progress.

I have found that the best way to tackle a problem like this and find the best solution is to gather a strong representation of everyone who is affected, present the issue at hand, and through collaborative discussion, explore the various facets of the problem until a solution gradually emerges. The power of this synergistic process is that everyone brings different strengths and perspectives to the table, especially when they are not within the boundaries of their assigned department, unit or clinic—in other words, they are out of their silo and working in an integrated way. When people are allowed to freely collaborate, they arrive at some pretty practical, sometimes elegant, solutions to the problem(s) in front of them.

As a leader, it is important to realize that facilitating a collaborative discussion does not mean that we are expected to already have all of the answers immediately at our fingertips. In fact, sometimes if we know too much, it can actually inhibit the collaborative process. Marshall Goldsmith, a noted speaker and writer on leadership, suggests that the biggest mistake a leader can make is to “add too much value”. When a leader contributes too much too quickly, they can actually stifle discussion and collaboration. When that happens, the group does not get to the best solution, and sometimes they cannot reach a solution at all.

Instead, the role of the leader is to spearhead an exploration of the topic at hand. First, one simply needs a general understanding of the issue. The next important component is to possess the ability to recognize and bring the right group of people to the discussion—a proper representation of those who are impacted by the issue and who can champion change. Then, begin with effective, thought-invoking questions, and always keep the conversation focused so that a viable solution can be reached.

After giving considerable thought to the challenge of improving hand hygiene compliance at UTMB, and after having many conversations with others, I have determined that we can do better. I would like each clinic, led by the nurse manager and medical director, and each inpatient unit or department, led by the nurse or technical manager and the medical director, to develop their own approach—an approach that will work best for each area. By working together with Healthcare Epidemiology, for example, the Surgical Intensive Care Unit improved their performance over a nine-month period from ranking as one of the lowest performers to achieving a 91% compliance rate (read more on this achievement on page three of the October 2015 issue of Friday Focus Newsletter).

I encourage all of you to work together at your clinic, unit or department level on this topic. Discuss your performance to date, and once you see where you are in terms of that performance, develop an approach that you believe will work best for your area. Then, track and communicate the results. Hand hygiene results can be viewed at an overall level on the Hand Hygiene website and by unit/department level at I will be asking each of the managers at our December Health System Leadership Team meeting to develop an improvement approach by January 15, 2016 and then begin to implement it. Our goal is that all units, departments and clinics achieve a 90% or better outcome for hand hygiene by August 31, 2016.

I am confident that each of you can help us to move to a higher level in this area. Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways infection and the spread of germs can be prevented and is an integral part of infection prevention practices. Our patients deserve our careful attention to this matter so that we can assure them of the safest possible patient care environment.

Thank you for all you do every single day to contribute to “simple solutions” for the challenges we face. I am grateful to you all for your dedication to assuring that our patients are cared for in the best possible way!


An attitude of gratitude reinforces our value of compassion.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, we wrapped up UTMB’s triennial Joint Commission Survey. It went very well! I would like to thank everyone at every level and area of the organization for your hard work and dedication to delivering the safest and highest quality patient care at UTMB.

The survey experience was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellence of our people and the outstanding work you do every day for our patients and their families. The survey process is not only about searching for areas for improvement, it’s also about recognizing best practices and things we do well, and the Joint Commission representatives commented on multiple occasions about how engaged and collaborative our staff is in their work, how everyone with whom they spoke was knowledgeable, and that those interviewed answered questions confidently.

I hope you all take a moment to congratulate one another on your teams as well as those who support you in your work. Team success is the effort of everyone working together, with our individual strengths and talents combined. Working together is the only way to deliver exceptional and comprehensive care for our patients. However, in the fast-paced working environment of health care, it can often be easy to forget to say “thank you”, particularly when something has happened so often that it has become routine, or we assume people already know how thankful we are for them.

As we usher in the holidays, with Thanksgiving approaching in a few short weeks, let’s focus on a season of gratitude, not only by acknowledging what we ourselves are grateful for, but by sharing our feelings of gratitude with the people who help us do our best work each day, including those with whom we work directly and the individuals who support our work from behind the scenes or from other departments.

I think we can all affirm that aside from the satisfaction we derive from doing work about which we are passionate because we know that it makes a difference for our patients and families, there may be nothing better than feeling like we truly make a difference — that we contribute unique value to the whole, and that we’re recognized for it. By the same token, when we take the time to express our heart-felt appreciation to others for something, it boosts their spirit, passion, and purpose. As a result, we feel more confident in our work, and we feel more energized and motivated. When we appreciate one another, it changes the atmosphere in which we work. In turn, that translates into how our patients and families also perceive the environment. Showing appreciation supports and reinforces our value of compassion.

Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Each day, we can acknowledge something big or small, personal, professional, or global for which we are grateful. As we practice this, we will begin to cultivate the experience of gratitude, and I suspect each of us will notice all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle positive changes in how others relate to us, in how we feel about our lives, and in how we weather difficulties. Just as ripples spread out when a pebble is dropped into water, this will have a far-reaching effect on our value of compassion.

I remember reading an article a couple of years ago that said it is easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others. To that end, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

There are many ways to practice gratitude. The following is a collection of simple suggestions we can start doing today as we begin a season of thankfulness, both for ourselves and toward others:

  • Open your eyes to see the good things in your life. We tend to see the bad things that happen in our life but overlook the good things. Open your eyes and be observant of those good things—even small things matter.
  • Practice appreciation by starting with yourself. Take a few moments at the end of the day to ask yourself this simple question: “What can I rightly feel proud of today?”
  • Make it a priority to notice what others are doing right. When you see someone doing something special or that makes a positive impact, let them know. What positive qualities, behaviors and contributions are there among the members of your team? What is it that each of them uniquely brings to the table? Don’t forget to thank the people who don’t always get thanked—every area has a high-profile person, but what about the individuals working behind the scenes?
  • Be appreciative. The more specific you can be about what you value about someone else and what is meaningful to them, the more positive your impact on that person is likely to be. A handwritten note makes a bigger impression than an email or a passing comment, but better any one of them than nothing at all. The great philosopher Voltaire once said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
  • Focus on giving. You will be grateful if your mind focuses on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Giving to others reminds us of how much we have to offer, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Consider making a donation to the SECC campaign this year – the collective power of our contributions can make a big difference!
  • Celebrate your successes. Set a time at regular intervals during the year, and at the end of an especially difficult day, to celebrate the achievement of your unit, clinic or department. Share acknowledgment and gratefulness of great things done by great people, review and learn the secrets of your successes and the lessons of your disappointments.

Thank you to every one of you for the wonderful work you do in support of one another, our patients and families each day. And remember, today is World Kindness Day! What a great day to start!


The Joint Commission Survey

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemToday we wrapped up UTMB’s triennial Joint Commission Survey! The surveyors have departed, and we now have our preliminary report of the survey findings. Before I highlight the week, however, I want to take time to thank everyone who participated in the survey. From the people who rounded with the surveyors every day, to the physicians and staff who were part of rounding and formal interviews, to those who ensured the facilities were clean and ready to be surveyed, and those who worked so hard behind the scenes to get all of the materials that the surveyors requested, THANK YOU!

A survey involving seven different surveyors over the course of a week is no small feat. Simply put, the surveyors were everywhere. They visited the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus, many of the off-island clinics, all of the island clinics, the Clinical Services Wing, the John Sealy Annex, Hospital Galveston, and the John Sealy Hospital. They held many scheduled interviews on topics like data management, medication management, and infection control management. They met with all of the Clinical Chairs, many other physicians, Human Resources, and so many others.

In every instance, the surveyors commented on how engaged our staff were, how knowledgeable and competent everyone is, and how welcomed you made them feel. As one surveyor said, “The excellence, transparency and courtesy of the staff is evident everywhere.” Two of the surveyors even got hugs from a volunteer and a technician in Hospital Galveston, while another surveyor was greeted by a volunteer who jumped up from their post and with a big smile on her face said, “We’ve been waiting for you!”

It would be impossible to name all of the areas where the surveyors visited and could not identify any findings. As the week progressed, a surveyor who said, “no findings” at the end of their report became somewhat commonplace, but always welcomed!

I do want to share some comments we heard throughout the week that are representative of how the survey went:

  • The facilities surveyor commented that with a campus so large and so complex, with so many square feet, old buildings, and connections to new buildings, he would have expected an excellent survey to have anywhere from five to eight findings. In our case, however, there were only two findings. Kudos to the folks from Business Operations and Facilities—you did a great job!
  • Perioperative Services is a very large area to survey. In fact, it takes almost an entire day. The surveyor for this area had “no findings”. This is my ninth Joint Commission survey as a leader, and I have never, ever had that result. The surveyor, who is a surgeon, even commented that he has done surveys for the Joint Commission for six years, and he has never had such a result. The entire team of staff and physicians who work in Perioperative Services did an amazing job!
  • The surveyor loved our Sterile Processing Department. From the new facility to the staff, they were impressed with the state-of-the art operation.
  • The nurse surveyor who visited the Angleton Danbury Campus had zero findings! Kudos to all of our colleagues in Angleton. They have been through so much change and training in the last fourteen months during their transition to UTMB, and surveyor of that campus pointed out what a great job they are doing. In fact, she said she has been to many hospitals undergoing similar integration processes, and one year later, staff at those hospitals did not yet seem to even realize that they were working for a new organization. I know how hard people have worked this past year to make the integration happen. Kudos to all of you!
  • The strength of our timeouts, which simply stated is the review of an essential checklist before starting a procedure, was referenced time and time again. Kudos to all of you for assuring that good timeouts happen for the safety of our patients. The surveyors were particularly impressed that the timeouts they saw were physician led and involved our patients.
  • The clinics surveyor commented on how he was normally accustomed to physicians leaving the clinic or not acknowledging him when he arrived. At UTMB, however, he commented that he was welcomed to the clinics, often by the team which included the physicians. Over and over, we heard how impressed the surveyors were of the “partnerships” that were evident between Health System employees and physicians. One surveyor said that UTMB was a “best practice” from his point of view.
  • Another surveyor gave kudos to those who are teaching the clinic staff how to use process improvement tools; it was clear that staff were aware of how to use these in their local process improvement initiatives.

As with any survey, there is still work we must do. Common themes include the following:

  • Doors not latching consistently.
  • Assuring that rooms that are supposed to have negative pressure do.
  • Defining clearer parameters for the nurses to administer pain medication.
  • Improving processes for high-level disinfection in areas outside of Sterile Processing, as well as better education of staff related to these areas.
  • Improved communication prior to the start of construction or remodeling in patient care areas.
  • Elevated humidity and temperature in some areas.

The surveyors departed this afternoon, leaving us with a preliminary report that they reviewed with leadership. This report, which contains the types of items mentioned above, will have limited access until it is finalized. We will have ten working days from today to challenge any of the findings with concrete data and/or documentation. After that, we will have 45 days from the time the report is finalized by The Joint Commission to develop or action plan for addressing any findings with direct impact, and 60 days for addressing any findings with an indirect impact to patient care.

I feel so proud of each and every one of you. You demonstrated to the surveyors the excellent care and compassion you provide each and every day to our patients. Your pride in UTMB and your knowledge was evident all throughout the week. Thank you for putting your best foot forward and helping the survey team to recognize the excellence of UTMB! I know all of us in leadership are so appreciative of the work that you do each and every day.

Thank you for your unrelenting commitment to excellence!



Random Acts of Kindness

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemYesterday, I had one of those experiences when someone shares a random act of kindness with you, and it suddenly brightens your day. I had left my office at noon to run an errand during my lunch break. Afterward, I had a little time to spare, so I decided to drive through McDonald’s to get a Diet Coke.

When I pulled in, I was pleased the line was short. I placed my order and then waited in line to get to the first window to pay for my order. As I pulled up to the window, I reached to offer my money to the cashier, who turned to me and said he didn’t need my money—the person in the truck ahead of me had paid for my order.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “Completely serious,” said the cashier.

I looked at the truck ahead of me and wondered if the person inside was anyone I recognized. I waved and the driver waved back. The couple in the truck received part of their order and then pulled forward to wait for the rest.

After I got my Diet Coke, I pulled forward beside the truck, leaving my car window open. As I looked inside, I realized I had no idea who these people were. In fact, they were complete strangers. I thanked them and told them that they had made my day. Theirs was such a kind and unexpected gesture, I felt like I might start crying. The gentleman in the truck asked me not to cry, or he would start crying, too! We laughed, I thanked them again and drove back to work.

I thought about this moment off and on for the rest of the afternoon. It was a small gesture, but it made my day. Why? I think that the surprise of it happening certainly made an impression. It was a big deal because they did not know me. For the couple, I believe, it was a simple gesture of kindness.

In thinking about this random act of kindness, I did a web search and learned that there is actually a “Random Acts of Kindness Foundation” directed to improving our schools, communities and workplaces. Who would have thought? But it is filled with great ideas about taking actions that promote kindness. While not an exhaustive list, ten of their ideas struck a chord with me because they are something we can all do at work. They include:

  1. Be a positive person.
  2. Bring a treat to a co-worker.
  3. Let someone go in front of you in the cafeteria line.
  4. Eat lunch with someone new.
  5. Write a positive note to a co-worker.
  6. Give affirmation; be generous with your kind words that affirm those around you.
  7. Pay the tab for the person behind you (maybe the people in the truck read this!).
  8. Give the benefit of the doubt.
  9. Pat someone on the back.
  10. Help a co-worker.

I also learned that there is a Worldwide Random Acts of Kindness Day on November 13, 2015.

Yesterday was a powerful day for me, because it reminded me that we all can do better by one another, whether among strangers, patients, hospital visitors or co-workers, by showing kindness. It doesn’t mean that we have to spend a lot of money or even much time. All it requires is that we start each day thinking about one act of kindness we will share with someone else so that we make their day. Imagine how UTMB’s patient satisfaction scores would soar if everyone shared a kind gesture with a patient or visitor!

I have decided we should not wait for November 13 to start. We should start today. We can surprise a co-worker, patient or their family member with a random act of kindness—something as simple as a handwritten note, a compliment, or a verbal “pat on the back”. We can do this for anyone we sense could use a little more kindness in their day. With one random act of kindness at a time, we can make UTMB an even better place. Who knows, we could make it a habit to uplift at least one patient and co-worker every day. How great would that be?

What random acts of kindness you have either shared or received. I’d love to hear them. Send me an email!