Living Well, Moving Well

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I was younger, I was a very active person. In high school and as a young adult, I played competitive volleyball, fast pitch softball and racquetball, and I ran or walked almost every day for exercise. But as time passed, my life became much busier—I got married and had children, I worked full time, and before I knew it, my exercise habits had become secondary to those everyday demands.

Every year, I vow to myself that I will do better; I will develop the important habit of exercise, because I know that it reduces stress and is good for overall physical and mental health. I always start out strong, but then I slowly taper off as work and family responsibilities once again take precedence.

This week, I saw an announcement on iUTMB for the 2014 UT System Physical Activity Challenge. I decided to sign up. From May 1 through June 12, I have committed to walk 50,000 steps each week. I am excited because this will not only improve my health, but I also have an opportunity to challenge each of you who have the same struggles I do with making a commitment to exercising consistently.

One of the benefits to signing up is that I get a free pedometer to measure my daily steps. The site also provides a short instructional video on how to log my activity and get credit for it. I completed a health assessment so that my activity could be credited to UTMB in the UT System Health Challenge. At the end of the six weeks, the UT institution with the highest per capita logged activity will be awarded this year’s “Traveling Trophy”. I am a pretty competitive person, so wouldn’t it be great if all of you joined me in this physical activity challenge and UTMB won the trophy?

However, with or without the trophy, I am doing this because the real winner will be my family and me, because hopefully, I will have developed a habit that keeps me healthy and active. Isn’t that the best trophy?

So, I am asking you to join me. Are you interested? Visit and sign up. If you feel comfortable doing so, please let me know how you’re doing with the program. Also, if your department decides to participate as a team, or you have fun ideas to get motivated or involved in the program, please share! Then, let’s all get started moving!

Download the flyer.

A Visit with Offender Care Services Teams at TDCJ Beauford H. Jester Units III & IV

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI recently had the opportunity to spend a day learning firsthand about the important work being done at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Beauford H. Jester III and IV Units in Richmond on March 28. I was joined by Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer, Dr. Owen Murray, vice president, Offender Care Services, Beverly Echols, administrative director, mental health services, Stephen Smock, associate vice president, Outpatient Offender Care Services, and Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, on each leg of the tour.

It was a pleasure meeting the UTMB Offender Care Services team members and learning about their roles on the units. Everyone we met along the way was proud of the work they do, and there was a tremendous sense of team spirit. The quality of care delivered to their patients is nothing short of outstanding, and it goes without saying that these individuals do it all in a unique care environment.

UTMB values are alive and well at the two Jester Units we visited, and I wanted to take a moment to recognize these outstanding teams by sharing some photos* from our tour; most importantly, I would like to thank them for their hospitality and for making a difference—excellent patient care cannot take place without compassionate, skilled individuals working together as a team!

Look for more photos in the upcoming issue of the Health System Friday Focus newsletter.

Beauford H. Jester IV Unit

The first leg of the tour began at Jester IV Unit (est. 1993), a 550-bed inpatient mental health unit. Dr. Philip Farley, chief psychiatrist and clinical director, and Andrey Vasiljev, business manager for inpatient operations, warmly welcomed us to the unit and gave us a detailed tour of the facility. We were also joined by Donald Hlavinka, mental health manager, Stephen Rogers, cluster nurse manager, Senior Warden Alphonso James, and Major Leroy Bailey. Among the many services offered at the unit are ambulatory medical, dental and inpatient mental health services and inpatient medical care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Left to Right: Sr. Warden Alphonso James, Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer, UTMB Health, Andrey Vasiljev, business manager inpatient operations, offender care services, Mary Feldhusen, communications manager, UTMB Health System, Dr. Owen Murray, vice president, Offender Care Services, Donna Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer, UTMB Health, Donald Hlavinka, mental health manager, Beverly Echols, administrative director, mental health services, Dr. Philip Farley, chief psychiatrist and clinical director, Stephen Rogers, cluster nurse manager, Major Leroy Bailey. Photograph by Steven Smock, associate vice president, Outpatient Offender Care Services

New UTMB Offender Care Services employees in training

New UTMB Offender Care Services employees in training with Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health

Mural at the entrance of the Jester IV Unit

Mural at the entrance of the Jester IV Unit

Mariamma Varughese, NCIII, Donna Sollenberger, Elizabeth Fakolade NCIII, Debra Riedel, correctional clinical associate, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, Jairo Salazar, mental health clinical, and Yao Wang, senior social worker

Mariamma Varughese, NCIII, Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, Elizabeth Fakolade NCIII, Debra Riedel, correctional clinical associate, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer, Jairo Salazar, mental health clinical, and Yao Wang, senior social worker

Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, poses next to one of the murals in Jester IV. Unit walls are lined with murals that were painted by offenders.

Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, poses next to one of the murals in Jester IV. Unit walls are lined with murals that were painted by offenders.

Stephen Rogers, cluster nurse manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, Sherly Aduparayil, NCIII and Donna Sollenberger

Stephen Rogers, cluster nurse manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer, Sherly Aduparayil, NCIII and Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health

Donna Sollenberger, Barbara King, LVN and Aleyamma Varghese, PCT

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health, Barbara King, LVN and Aleyamma Varghese, PCT

Donna Sollenberger and Alice Copeland, correctional clinical associate

Donna Sollenberger, EVP &CEO, UTMB Health, and Alice Copeland, correctional clinical associate

Bed planning: Donald Hlavinka, mental health manager, Donna Sollenberger and Dr. Philip Farley, chief psychiatrist

Bed planning: Donald Hlavinka, mental health manager, Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health and Dr. Philip Farley, chief psychiatrist

Beauford H. Jester III Unit

The second half of the day, our group had the opportunity to tour the Jester III Unit (est. 1982), where ambulatory medical, dental, and mental health services are also offered around the clock, seven days a week. The unit offers rehabilitation services, including brace and limb care, wound care, occupational therapy and physical therapy and has 132 wheelchair accommodating cells along with a 12-bed assisted living infirmary. Digital medical services, electronic specialty clinics and chronic disease care are also offered. Senior Practice Manager Susan Dostal and Cluster Nurse Manager Marisol Genin guided us throughout the facility and introduced us to their team members. These individuals truly work wonders for their patients!


Jester III Medical Unit

Back: Charlotte Nease, LVN, Marisol Genin, cluster nurse manager, Susan Dostal, senior practice manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum; front: James Stubbs, physical therapist, Donna Sollenberger, Patricia Ekholm, coordinator, Dr. Gwen Williams, physiatrist and clinical director

Back: Charlotte Nease, LVN, Marisol Genin, cluster nurse manager, Susan Dostal, senior practice manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer; front: James Stubbs, physical therapist, Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health, Patricia Ekholm, coordinator, Dr. Gwen Williams, physiatrist and clinical director

Denise Herbert, correctional clinical associate, Digital Medical Services, and Donna Sollenberger

Denise Herbert, correctional clinical associate, Digital Medical Services, and Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health

Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, Beverly Echols, administrative director, mental health services, Stephen Smock, associate vice president, Outpatient Offender Care Services, Donna Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer, UTMB Health, Susan Dostal, senior practice manager, Marisol Genin, cluster nurse manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety & clinical information officer, UTMB Health, and Dr. Owen Murray, vice president, Offender Care Services

Gary Eubank, associate chief nursing officer, Offender Care Services, Beverly Echols, administrative director, mental health services, Stephen Smock, associate vice president, Outpatient Offender Care Services, Donna Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer, UTMB Health, Susan Dostal, senior practice manager, Marisol Genin, cluster nurse manager, Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety & clinical information officer, UTMB Health, and Dr. Owen Murray, vice president, Offender Care Services

Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, Donna Sollenberger, Lisa Cantu, mental health case manager, and Ms. Shabazz, mental health manager

Dr. Mark Kirschbaum, chief quality, safety and clinical information officer, Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health, Lisa Cantu, mental health case manager, and Ms. Shabazz, mental health manager

Dinnie Davison, phlebotomist, Donna Sollenberger and Veronica Aranda, LVN, clinical infectious diseases

Dinnie Davison, phlebotomist, Donna Sollenberger and Veronica Aranda, LVN, clinical infectious diseases

A very special thank you to everyone at Jester Units III & IV!


*select individuals requested to be identified only by last name 


A Caring Atmosphere

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSeveral months ago, an article in Impact Online Newsletter highlighted two UTMB patients, Mary and J.C. Wall, who make the one-hour drive from Angleton to Galveston every three months for standing appointments with Dr. Megan Berman. The two have been UTMB patients for fifteen years. On one particular visit, however, things were suddenly very different—Mary had a heart attack.

The story, “Routine doctor visit saves life” by Molly J. Dannenmaier, describes the amazing teamwork that took place on behalf of the UTMB team—Mary was in surgery within minutes, and the couple was compassionately supported and guided through the event, from the onset of the attack until Mary’s release from the hospital. Mary’s cardiologist, Dr. Umamahesh Rangasetty, even took the time to show J.C. a video of the surgery and explained everything that had taken place.

“He was really some doctor to take the time to do that for me,” said J.C. “When we finished watching it, we walked out of his office down the hall with our arms around each other. It was really something.”

“We love this hospital—people really take care of us here.”

This last phrase stood out to me, and I reflected on it. In terms of being in the right place at the right time, this was an exceptional story, indeed. But it also encompassed what it means when a patient or family member says that they felt “taken care of”.

How well patients perceive that they are being taken care depends on many factors. Sometimes those factors can be either personal or cultural in nature; however, as one might expect, research shows that a top indicator of care is the clinical expertise of caregivers. Additionally, patients and families want to be involved throughout the health care process so that they feel informed and are involved in care decisions. Safety is also a top priority—they want to see that systems and processes are working well.

But there is more to a caring experience than these factors alone. Patients and visitors also want to be treated like human beings, and a compassionate and supportive environment in which emotional and spiritual needs are taken into account does matter. They want to be recognized and warmly greeted. When time spent waiting is filled with fear or concern, timeliness is a factor.

Janie Pietramale, a UTMB volunteer who donates countless hours of her time to helping family members in the OR waiting room, explains, “Friends and family members are understandably worried; sometimes it’s a tense situation. Not everyone is familiar with the experience of being in an OR waiting room. They need someone to keep them informed. Often, they wait for hours, afraid to leave to eat or even go to the restroom in case the doctor comes out of the OR to give an update.”

Janie is there to offer support. She helps put family members at ease, and that is demonstrating care.

In the last Friday Flash Report, we explored the idea that building a positive work culture can influence the experience of our patients and their families, as well as for one another. Simple gestures, like providing directions to someone who might be lost, can make a big difference to patients, families and colleagues alike.

Excellent service starts with us. Whatever our role at UTMB Health, from the moment we put on our UTMB Health name tag, we become representatives of the organization, and everything we do while we wear our badge represents our commitment to our patients, visitors and colleagues.

Every detail about us, according to Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic, down to the tips of our shoelaces, symbolizes our attitude toward patient care and represents small but tangible pieces of evidence about our organization and the complex medical services we offer.

I am pleased to say that there is a simple detail that we can each add daily that will speak volumes about our caring health care environment: a smile.

There is a philosophy at Wyndham Worldwide called the “15-5 Rule”. The rule states that when you see someone at a distance of 15 feet and private conversations cease, give visual recognition, such as a smile. At five feet, acknowledge the person, and if needed, listen and offer assistance. It takes less than two seconds to make a first impression!

A UTMB patient’s family member recently wrote of their experience at UHC Oral Surgery: “It was nice to see that everyone at the front desk is mindful of patients and visitors and that they acknowledge everyone who approaches, whether they are assisting them or not.”

Imagine how improved our patient’s satisfaction will be once we practice the 15-5 rule with our patients, visitors and each other! There is power in a smile—we gain confidence in ourselves and the confidence of those around us.

A health care environment can be quite intimidating to a patient or visitor. With so much on a person’s mind and so many machines and staff hurriedly working, it’s not always clear who can be asked for help. It is up to us to deliver what every patient, family member and employee deserves—the best possible care and environment. In return, we will earn something every health care organization covets: highly satisfied patients, families and employees.

Building a Positive Work Culture

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, many of you joined me in person or online as I presented the Health System’s Mondays in March presentation. Mondays in March is an opportunity for each mission area at UTMB to share updates on the progress, achievements and challenges experienced over the first half of the current fiscal year as well as our aim for the future.

This year, I closed my presentation with a short video in which several Health System employees shared what they enjoy most about working at UTMB and how they help UTMB achieve its mission. I was heartened by the comments our employees made, and I felt assured that UTMB Health truly is moving toward a culture that embraces patient- and family-centered care and provides the highest quality patient and family experience:

“Great service is what starts with us. I look at the patient as if it was my mother lying in that bed, as if it was my daughter who just broke her arm or my daughter who just found out she had cancer. I come to work knowing I’m a catering associate, knowing I do this for Food and Nutrition, but I’m also your friend. I’m also making sure everything is okay; I’m asking how your day is. It’s not about the food sometimes, it’s just the comfort.”

Randilee Ordinez, catering associate

“[The team] loves to do their job because the environment they work in is a happy environment. I walk around and greet my employees each day and say, ‘Hey, it’s a great day today. Let’s put a smile on our face and get ready to help the patients.’  I demonstrate on a daily basis compassion towards the patients that I deal with, I respect them in every manner, and I always put integrity first. My challenge is making the unhappy customer happy.”

Patricia Ojeda, patient accounts senior manager

In last week’s Friday Flash Report, we reflected on ways in which future communication should build on strengths and past positive experiences and identify what else can be done to enhance this work. One way we can build on our success is to continue our pursuit of a positive work culture—a Culture of Trust. After all, our work culture ultimately impacts the experience of our patients and families.

There are a number of major companies in the nation that are considered highly successful for several specific reasons: 1) they offer dependable, high-quality products and/or services, 2) they consistently provide an excellent customer experience, and although these top-rated companies are embedded in very different industries, 3) their values center on how everyone on the team is expected to conduct themselves, both toward the customer and toward one another—they embrace open discussions, encourage innovation and believe in the spirit of service.

There is a national grocery store chain, Trader Joe’s, with which some of you may be familiar—they have a couple of locations in the Houston area and more than 400 store locations across the nation. It is considered unique compared to usual grocery stores. Of the store, some say, “It is more than a grocery store; it is a grocery experience.”

The store stocks only about a fraction of the items a typical grocery store might have on hand, and yet, the company is preceded by its outstanding reputation. This is because instead of offering multiple brands of a certain product, they offer select quality brands at a reasonable price. In short, customers believe they are getting great quality and value.

But the quality and value of a product alone doesn’t necessarily equate to a satisfying experience. Customers are highly satisfied by their experience at Trader Joe’s because they are warmly greeted, and the experience is personal and efficient. The chain prides itself on this and encourages their employees to reflect on how they interact with customers. Do they think about how they relate to the customer—can they imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes? Do they think about not just what is said, but how it is said?

The next few reasons the chain ranks near the top are atmosphere, efficiency and cleanliness. Surprisingly, location (although an important asset) was not ranked nearly as high in importance by customers as courtesy, quality and value.

Why do we at UTMB care what a successful business outside of the health care industry is doing to be successful? The reason is simple: in a competitive health care environment, people have choices.

Our business at UTMB Health is to deliver optimal health care and the very best service. We care about the patient’s experience; we care about the family’s experience. So what should we reflect on each day to improve on the work we are already doing to ensure our patients and families are receiving the best possible experience?

We already have a framework (our mission, vision and values) in place at UTMB that will guide us to success, and we all agree that caring for our patients and families is why we are here! We also have a philosophy: “Be able to look people directly in the eye and say: ‘The care you will receive at UTMB Health will be the same care I would want my most cherished of loved ones to receive.’” This is the motto for our Culture of Trust.

So here’s your homework! I want each of you to reflect on how you can help create a positive work culture at UTMB. I encourage you to reflect on ways in which we can continue to improve the patient and family experience. Offering something as simple as a smile to a colleague, patient or visitor can go a long way toward creating a positive environment; asking someone who looks lost if they need directions or offering a tired family member a cup of coffee might make a world of difference to them at that moment.

When we work together to identify and embrace the qualities that appeal most to our patients and families, and when we hold ourselves accountable to those practices daily, we build a culture that delivers a consistently outstanding experience for our patients and their families and for one another.

Recognizing Team Accomplishments, Sharing a Vision

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I came across a posting of monthly clinic stats for the PCP Pediatrics Clinic developed by Practice Manager Ashley Dusek. The creative style she used to help inform her team of the most recent numbers for completed patient appointments really stood out to me. She did much more than simply reveal the data—she helped her team understand why the work they did during the month of February mattered to the 1,421 patients they served.

The post began, “Total Number of Completed Appointments 1,421. Why do I care you ask?” The communication continued:

“Because of you…1,421 patients were reassured their vitals were stable and that their lab work, which you drew, would be processed in a timely manner.

Because of you…1,421 patients were able to receive specialty care, immunizations, or just a simple reassurance by having their medical questions answered.

Because of you…1,421 patients were examined and given the right medications to make it all better!

Because of you…8,943 patient phone calls were answered. They were able to make appointments, ask questions, get test results, get prescription refills and know that we were there to answer and help with whatever they needed.

If you got to the end of this and you still believe you are too small to make a difference, Try sleeping with a mosquito!”

Ashley acknowledged the work her team had accomplished and also recognized that their efforts had positively impacted the patients’ experiences.

When I speak with individuals across the institution, whether their role is in direct patient care or they work behind the scenes, it is clear to me that as an organization, we believe we are ultimately here to serve our patients and their families. We find the greatest satisfaction in our roles when we know that we have provided good service to them and that we have truly made a difference.

Several months ago, when Sharon Johnson, a senior radiation therapist at UTMB, was asked how she felt she impacted the patient experience, her response wasn’t made in reference to the tasks she performs daily to deliver patient therapy alone. Instead, she answered, “I just try to be who they need me to be at that moment. Sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on, sometimes they need a sister or a mother figure, sometimes it’s just a friend to hold their hand. I give a little piece of myself to the patients and I gain so much in return.”

While we all do what we do at UTMB because we receive the intrinsic reward of helping our patients and families, it also feels good to receive direct feedback that affirms we have made a difference. When our patients are satisfied, we feel satisfied with our performance. However, it can sometimes seem that we more frequently receive feedback about the areas in which we have yet to improve, and perhaps less frequently that our names are called out in a moving patient testimonial that so eloquently describes the true impact that we have made.

That is why, as team leaders, we must be supportive of the work our teams do. It is not always just about celebrating the major milestones; it is also about celebrating the small successes we have made along the way. When we feel good about what we do, we also develop a desire to continue that success—we have a sense of pride and ownership. Therefore, even when we do identify areas needing improvement, we must take care that we are constructive in our approach to both delivering and receiving the message. We want to emphasize fixing our processes, not assigning blame—that is a Culture of Trust.

Much of the work we do in health care today takes place under an umbrella of a changing health care environment. While this change is sometimes difficult, many of the best components of these changes are embedded in improving the quality and efficiency of care as well as the experience of the patient. It will take teamwork to be successful, and this means we are all involved, at all levels of the organization. This is a positive process! It’s important that we share information, celebrate accomplishments and provide timely, consistent and authentic feedback. Our focus of discussion is on how we can build on strengths and past positive experiences. We must do more than identify what is already working well; we need to identify what else can be done to enhance this work.

Tom Morris, author of If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business, explains that while the pace of change may be at an all-time high, the challenge of change has always been with us. Change is the condition for positive, creative growth. At UTMB, we must stand firm in our values of compassion, integrity, respect, diversity and lifelong learning. We share in the vision of the road ahead, and we will work together to achieve it. We are here to work together to work wonders for our patients and their families!

If you would like to recognize an accomplishment or creative solution, please share with it us! Email us at

Remembering Ralph Farr

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemBy now, I am certain you have heard that Ralph Farr, UTMB’s former Vice President of Information Services, passed on this week after a long illness. I know all of us were saddened with the loss of a trusted colleague and friend. As I thought about what I would write for this Friday Flash Report, I felt strongly that I needed to acknowledge Ralph’s leadership and friendship that he shared with us at UTMB.

I remember vividly the first time I met Ralph. It was a welcoming visit, and though he did not report directly to me, he let me know that he and the entire Information Services (IS) team felt personally accountable for helping the Health System meet its goals. He was, in short, a colleague and a team player.

In the months and years I worked with Ralph, he was always very much a part of the team, as equally invested in patient care as the rest of us. As I got to know him better, I gained a true appreciation for his understated leadership style: quietly doing the work that needed to be done while vigorously supporting the staff in IS, as well as the leadership of UTMB. He learned, over the years, to do a lot with very little. Ralph was very proud of the work IS had done with the Epic electronic medical record, although we both laughed that it was probably the longest rollout known to humankind!

When the specter of ICD-10 loomed large and it was clear that our registration, scheduling and billing systems would not function in an ICD-10 world, Ralph honored the past successes of IS’s systems while also becoming one of the strongest advocates for the necessary change that brought us the utmbConnect project. He championed leaders, he worked tirelessly to recruit and retain good staff, and he welcomed the collaborative approach with operations, openly acknowledging the need for the utmbConnect project not to be another “Information Services project,” but rather an “Information Services/Health System Operations collaboration.” He paved the way for what would be a successful implementation of the revenue cycle systems in April 2013.

Along the utmbConnect journey, Ralph shared with me and others that he was not well. We all watched as he tackled his health issues with strength, courage and determination. I was astonished at how he seldom missed a beat at work, all the while fighting a formidable health foe. I was also struck by the compassion and support Ralph received from the IS colleagues whom he had always supported in the past. They were always there for him. After all, that is the UTMB Way. We take care of each other.

On April 6, 2013, utmbConnect went live. The command center was a hive of activity with people from Epic, UTMB IS and UTMB Operations filling three rooms on the first floor of the Administration Building. As I was going through one of the rooms, I noticed a gentleman in the back of the room watching everything that was going on and smiling. It was Ralph. Although he had not been at work much lately due to his health challenges, he told me that this was a day he was not going to miss. I could tell by talking to him and by the look on his face that he felt so proud to be part of this effort and part of the UTMB team!

I was reminded by a wise mentor that in order to inspire or build a bright future, we have to honor the best things of the past. I feel that Ralph embodied that advice.

T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Life would be no better than candlelight tinsel or daylight rubbish if our spirits were not touched by what has been.”

All of us have been touched by or inspired by the work that Ralph did at UTMB and by his leadership legacy. We will all miss him.

FarrRalph 07

Ralph Farr

We All Pave the Road Ahead

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemVery early in my career in healthcare administration, I was appointed as the departmental administrator for the Department of Surgery in a small medical school in central Illinois. Looking back, I am astonished that I had the position—I was 26 years old with no health care experience. I like to think that the chair of surgery saw my potential!

In the first week on the job, I was asked to attend a meeting of the faculty group practice board. It was an interesting meeting in that the chairs of all of the clinical departments and a few representatives of the clinical faculty met, with their administrators sitting in chairs behind the table. (I used to think about this meeting as a place where I simply watched people meet!)

At any rate, one of the agenda topics during the meeting was a discussion around the need to write a new practice plan—essentially a new compensation plan—for the clinical faculty. The attorney in the room asked for a volunteer from the department administrators to assist him in this effort. I surveyed the room and noticed that no one was volunteering. The attorney asked again. The silence was growing a little uncomfortable, so I raised my hand and volunteered to work with him on this important project.

So you might be asking, “What is so unusual about this story?” Don’t people volunteer all of the time to help with institutional projects, even when their job is embedded in a department, a clinic or a unit?  Well, in this instance as I walked out of the room, the situation was unique because I had only one question on my mind: “What is a practice plan?”

That’s right. I had just volunteered to be the co-leader of a critically important institutional project about which I knew virtually nothing!

Needless to say, I did a lot of research and sought advice from people I trusted. Along the way, I learned what needed to be done. When the project was completed, not only had I made a reasonable contribution to the effort, but I had also become an invaluable asset as a result of the experience, not just to the clinical faculty in my department, but to the entire clinical faculty, because I knew in great detail how the physicians were paid. My title and position signified that I was a leader in the Department of Surgery, but volunteering for that project made me an informal leader in the institution.

While formal leaders have a certain level of authority and help set expectations, informal leaders are just as critical to the success of an organization. It would be very difficult for any department to reach its goals without informal leaders, and consequently, very difficult—if not impossible—for an organization to reach its goals.

Informal leaders are individuals who take on new projects and move steadily toward their individual and team goals; often, they learn as they go and by the end of a project, have gained a new wealth of knowledge from their experience. They are then able to share the information they have learned (as well as their newfound strengths) with the team and offer their thoughts and suggest positive solutions; in doing so, they help to create an atmosphere of synergy and constructive interchange.

In fact, research on team performance shows that having informal leaders within a group can increase the overall performance of the team. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone on the team is “the” leader. Instead, it means that the team recognizes the strengths of others in the group and they encourage one another to leverage those strengths. In this way, the team learns from each other and through this camaraderie, is then collectively able to achieve what an individual alone could not. The team is empowered to complete pieces of a larger plan; and in turn, the official manager is able to direct their focus toward how that plan will help the organization to achieve its overarching goals. The official manager is also then in a more effective stance to truly lead and develop the team.

With this in mind, we all have an opportunity to be leaders in our own areas and to provide leadership to assist UTMB Health in achieving The Road Ahead. When we embrace the opportunities that arise when working as a team and when we take on new challenges, learn and explore, we gain skills from which we will benefit in the future and that will benefit our team and the entire organization. This is one of the many ways we can work together to work wonders.

Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position. —Brian Tracy

Going for the Gold

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIt’s that time again. Many of us have been glued to our television sets each evening, watching with excitement and anticipation as the 2014 Winter Olympics unfold. I don’t know how many of you watched this weekend, but I watched more than my fair share! When my husband asked me why I am so fascinated with the Olympics, my response was quick: I love watching the Olympics to see people who have invested so much time and energy into a single focus—to represent their country and be the best at what they do! However, my husband’s question did cause me to think some more about why I love watching the Olympics.

First, I admire people who are dedicated to working hard to achieve exceptional results. Many of these athletes have great stories that are often not told until the time the Olympics air. In some stories, the athletes have overcome major obstacles to achieve their goal and have sacrificed much in their lives in order to maintain an almost singular focus on the one thing that is so important to them. In other stories, we get to hear about parents and family members who not only provide critical emotional and financial support, but also give much of their time to support their loved one as they strive to meet their life’s goals. I am drawn to these stories and to the incredible individual and team achievements.

I have a friend who won a gold medal in speed skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He sometimes talks about how he has many attributes that should have worked against him—he is considered too tall for the sport, and he isn’t all that fast. To add to these liabilities, six months before the Olympics, the Dutch came out with the clapper skate that revolutionized speed skating, shaving seconds off the race. My friend had to relearn how to skate is six short months before his competition. All of this combined made his outlook seem bleak; however, he tells me that he overcame these obstacles through hard work, a singular focus and an overwhelming passion to excel. That, he believes, allowed him to earn a gold medal.

As I think about the Olympics and my friend with the gold medal, I am struck by the similarities between his achievement and what we all do at UTMB each and every day. We are individuals who, on our own, may not be able to accomplish the job at hand; however, when we work together in support of one another, we leverage one another’s strengths and we are all focused on a singular purpose—to work together to define the future of health care and to strive to be the best in all of our endeavors. Together, we can accomplish great things.

Olympians almost always have the strong support of their parents, family, or friends. I know that was the case with my friend; he often told me that he shared his gold medal with his family, because without their support, he would never have reached this pinnacle. And so it is with all of us—individual efforts and successes often are the result of many people on a team, some of whom are on the frontlines and others behind the scenes.

Lastly, there are the Olympic stories that tell of how athletes first got started in their sport. In some cases, we hear of Olympic athletes who were motivated to begin competing after they watched another Olympian participate, like Mary Lou Retton, who took up gymnastics after watching Nadia Comăneci perform in the 1976 Summer Olympics. I thought of this earlier in the week when I attended the official award ceremony for the UTMB SICU team, during which time they were formally awarded their pins for achieving the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ACCN) Gold-Level Beacon Award for Nursing—in fact, they are one of only four gold-level recipients in Texas.

The Beacon Award, which I touched on in one of my earlier posts, recognizes individual units that distinguish themselves by improving all aspects of patient care. It also signifies that UTMB patients who are admitted to our SICU experience better outcomes and are more satisfied with their overall experience.

As I listened to the story of the SICU’s journey to achieve this award, I heard many individuals singled out for their contributions. However, what struck me was that each of these individuals in turn recognized the entire team’s effort to achieve the award. I also learned that both the MICU and the Burn Unit, inspired by the SICU’s success, are now in the process of completing their own applications for the Beacon Award.

Each one of you at UTMB Health is to be congratulated for the part you have played (and will play in the future) as we journey to our own gold medal: to be the safest, most reliable place for patients to receive their care! Thanks to each of you for your contributions as individuals and team members who are striving each and every day to make UTMB a better place for patients to receive their care.


The Fuel That Allows Common People to Attain Uncommon Results

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is a common thread throughout many of the Friday Flash Report messages: each of us works on a team that in some way, shape or form impacts our patients, and we all have an important role to play in assuring that our patients receive the best possible care. Whatever your role at UTMB, whether you are a nurse, physician, pharmacist, food services employee, physical therapist, patient services specialists or any other employee who either enters patient rooms or has personal contact with a patient, you understand how your interaction with a patient can affect their experience.

In some of those messages, I’ve shared inspiring quotes or stories that reflect upon this theme, but this week, I thought I would share a couple of very touching patient letters I recently received that are testaments to the fact that the work you do, whether in teams or on an individual level, truly touches the lives of our patients and their families.

The first letter came from a patient who had an extraordinary experience with a multidisciplinary UTMB team including Dr. Aakash Gajjar, who specializes in colorectal surgery; Dr. Daniel Beckles, who specializes in minimally invasive cardiac and thoracic surgery; Dr. Avi Markowitz, cancer expert; Nancy Ross, nurse practitioner; and countless others, from patient services specialists to technicians, nurses, medical records staff and pathologists:

“My wife and I were living overseas at the time, headed back to the Houston area for the holidays. The day before our departure, my urologist confirmed by ultrasound that there was a fairly large mass in my abdomen. As it was almost Christmas, we knew it would be difficult to arrange medical appointments. To our pleasant surprise, the UTMB receptionist referred us to Nancy Ross in Dr. Aakash Gajjar’s office. Nancy was quick to arrange an appointment with Dr. Gajjar on the following Monday.

From there, things moved quickly from a diagnostic perspective. And while the news was not all good (what started out as a suspected colorectal issue ended up being stage IV melanoma), we soon had a very clear picture of what we were dealing with and a proposed treatment solution from the UTMB team.

Every aspect of the experience was superior. In my professional life, I am known as a “process guy”. I feel that UTMB’s excellent processes are no accident, but rather the result of a careful, contemplated, well-executed strategy. It is obvious to me that UTMB sees itself not simply as a health care provider, but as a customer services business as well.”

The second letter I received came from a patient who had recently undergone knee replacement surgery. After her experience with the team in the Ortho-Trauma unit and her encounter with one staff member in particular, she says would never think of going anywhere but UTMB for her care.

“I am well on my way to recovery and am confident of a great outcome as time progresses. I wanted to let you and others know of the exceptional person we encountered during the t­wo hospital stays required for my surgery and follow-up. The staff tending to me during these two stays did a fine job, but to my husband and me, one person stood out head and shoulders above the rest—Jill McGinnis, Nurse Clinician I.

Her genuine concern and attention to detail was outstanding to say the least. Her caring manner reflected a person who entered the nursing profession with a desire to help others and she seems to receive great joy in doing so. This young lady goes above and beyond what “must” be done to make sure her patients feel that they are being taken care of.

Jill made me feel that I would try to do the same in caring for patients if I were her in her shoes. It is refreshing to see this kind of care from a young person in the medical field. Her attitude, knowledge, concern and care during times when I felt somewhat “inhuman” was comforting, and I am sure it aided in my recovery. Her attitude and enthusiasm should be spread throughout the institution.

It is clear to my husband and I that any patient who encounters Jill and the attitude and concern she shows will be as blessed as we were to have her by their side.”

Andrew Carnegie once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

These two patient letters demonstrate the power of the skilled and compassionate individual who is part of an extraordinary team, completely focused on the patient. I have always believed that caring begins where skill and compassion intersect. These letters are but examples of the tremendous caring and compassion that our physicians, nurses and staff demonstrate to our patients each and every day.

Thank you for all that you do for our patients!   

Any road will take you there if you don’t know where you’re going.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne winter as a college student in the Midwest, I embarked on a 30-minute trek along a limited access interstate during a snow storm. I was on my way to the airport to catch a plane home for the holidays. I was only about ten miles into my journey when the snow began to fall heavier and heavier. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a full-blown blizzard. Driving about 10 miles per hour at most, I could barely see the edges of the road and I could no longer gauge my progress by simply looking at the road ahead of me.

As I slowly moved along the interstate, I began to notice cars and trucks had slid off the road into adjacent ditches. Meanwhile, other drivers had wisely pulled off to the side of the road under the overpasses. Yet, I continued. Soon, I came up behind an 18-wheeler that seemed to know where he was going. Rather than stopping to wait out the storm, I began driving behind him. After all, I had a plane to catch!

When I finally reached the Kansas City airport, I sighed in relief that I had safely (and now, I must admit foolishly) arrived at my destination only to discover that, of course, all flights had been canceled. I spent the next two days in the airport trying to get home.

Reflecting on this event from my past made me realize how important it is to be able clearly see where one is headed. I thought about how easy it was to drive the interstate when there were no obstacles and the weather was nice and clear. From memory, I could drive that road to get where I wanted; I didn’t need a guide. However, during the snow storm there was no definition to the road and no clarity about where I was going. It was an unnerving feeling and reminded me of a saying my dad always used: “Any road will take you there if you don’t know where you’re going.” This made me think a lot about the importance of a plan.

Knowing where you’re headed is important when you’re traveling from one destination to another. It’s also important for a large organization to understand where it’s headed as it strives to fulfill its mission. At UTMB, our road map is The Road Ahead, a document that succinctly articulates our mission and vision with clearly stated goals of what we need to do in order to be successful in all of our endeavors.

roadaheadAs we embark on a New Year, let’s revisit The Road Ahead so that we all know where we are headed as an organization. As we review the goals we have set for ourselves, let’s each think about how, through the work we do each day,  we individually contribute  to UTMB’s success in achieving its mission to improve health for the people of Texas and around the world.

Similar to the parable  of the three stonecutters included in the message, “What we really do for a living…” it is not merely the tasks that we do, but rather how our work helps to advance patient care, health sciences education and research. Let’s all set a goal to be able to quickly describe how our work helps UTMB succeed as we continue on The Road Ahead.

I once heard a funny story that said we should not be pleased to win the “Christopher Columbus Award”, because it implies we don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know when we have reached our destination, and when we get home, we don’t know where we have been. Fortunately, UTMB won’t win that award because we have The Road Ahead, our guide to a successful future!