The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I was in grade school, time seemed to stand still. The school year seemed to last forever, and it felt like summer would never arrive. The days before Christmas (which my family celebrates) were the longest days imaginable. The hands on the clock seemed to stand still as I waited for my cousin and best friend to come over to play.

I have a vivid memory as a twelve-year-old. I was sitting on the steps of our front porch and thinking about my grandparents, who had recently come to visit. I was worried about getting old like they were—I didn’t want to grow old! However, when I did the math, I realized that they were 62, and I remember promptly feeling much, much better because that was such a long way off!

Now, fast forward to this past December. All of my children and their families were visiting for the holidays. Both of my twin sons and their wives had become parents that year, and they were enjoying introducing their daughter and son to all the members of our family. I remember one evening as we all sat around the living room, one of my sons commented on how quickly time had seemed to pass, “It seems like it was just last week that we were all together for the winter holidays.” I smiled as I wondered how he grew up so fast and was now married with a daughter.

These days, time seems to fly!

It is almost unbelievable to me that this is the last Friday Flash Report of fiscal year 2015, and next week we will publish the last Friday Focus Newsletter of the year. Many of the plans we made when we started this year are now complete. The FY2016 budget is behind us, as are all of the performance evaluations. The 84th legislative session came to a close in June, and we made some additional strides in service to patients through the Correctional Managed Care program. We have also worked hard to integrate the Angleton Danbury Campus into UTMB, and implemented UTMB’s electronic medical record (Epic) throughout the site.

We have made tremendous progress this year! Each day, I’m amazed by the view from my office, as I see the beautiful new Jennie Sealy Hospital nearing completion. I look forward to celebrating its opening next spring. I continue to marvel at UTMB’s growth off the island. From the League City Campus to the Angleton Danbury Campus, to the openings of the Primary and Specialty Care Clinics in Texas City and Alvin, and the new Pediatric Urgent and Primary Care Clinic in Galveston, it has been a year of progress and growth, and these exceptional facilities will help us better serve our patients and train future physicians, nurses and health professionals.

Although the past year was challenging at times, it is anticipated that the Health System will meet its budget on the close of business August 31, 2015. And in addition to all of this, we have achieved many new certifications that speak to the talent, skill and teamwork involved in making sure that our patients receive the very best of care. To all of you who have worked so hard to help UTMB achieve this growth and success, thank you!

We have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming fiscal year. Thinking about all that we aspire to achieve, we realize there will be more hard work ahead of us, and we will surely be met with a few new challenges, as well. But I am certain we will rise to the occasion and succeed by remaining focused on the initiatives that will move our organization forward.

In the coming fiscal year, our focus in the Health System will be to:

  • Make a quantum leap in our quality and safety performance. We already have many strategies in place to address and improve our performance in the quality measurements of value-based purchasing, including patient satisfaction, 30-day readmissions, healthcare-associated infections and hospital-acquired conditions, as well as hand hygiene. While we have seen some improvements in the past year, all other organizations to which we compare ourselves have also improved, and some have improved more quickly than we have. We must achieve greater improvements in quality and safety!
  • Continue investments in our people. We will refer to the results of the upcoming You Count! Pulse Survey to continue to identify and act on improvements you recommend. I am not sure if you know it or not, but Friday Flash Reports began as a result of feedback from Health System employees who asked to hear more from me about where we were headed and how each individual in our organization plays an important role in our future. Many of the new offerings for training in Human Resources have also been resulted from survey feedback.
  • Achieve a $49M improvement in net patient care margin. We have developed action plans which address the needed improvements, and we will need to utilize all of our resources effectively in order to meet this goal.
  • Become more transparent. You will soon be seeing UTMB’s quality information reported publicly on our website. The data will be front and center for our patients and community to easily access. Some of the information will be specific—for example, patient satisfaction responses will be presented at the provider level. Some organizations are already doing this, and we believe it is critical that we share how we are performing in these areas with our community and our patients in a timely and accurate manner.

The future will be here before we know it. If we maintain a laser-like focus on these four areas—the continued investments in our people, quantum leaps in quality and safety, transparency with our outcomes, and using our resources as wisely as possible—the future will be filled with promise.

I always look for inspiration, whether it’s in something I’m reading, a story about one of our employees, or a conversation I have along the way. In his commencement address to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford, Steve Jobs asked the audience if they could remember the last time they had asked themselves why they were doing something, or why it mattered to them. He said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

We are all in health care because we believe in what we do. I love what I do. Although I do not deliver direct patient care, I make an impact and that matters to me. Through my work, I am helping make a difference in people’s lives. I’m able to support those who do work on the front lines of health care. And I believe in delivering excellent patient care. I believe in keeping our patients and families safe and at the heart of everything we do. I believe in offering the very best facilities and services for our employees and those we serve. And I believe that if we remain dedicated and focused, we will be successful in all our endeavors this year.

Happy New Fiscal Year, and thank you each for all you do to make UTMB a great place to receive care and a great place to work!

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot.

 

 

 

Inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe other day, my husband and I were talking about what I had learned during my 40-year career in health care. During the conversation, he asked me what I thought had been the best compliment I had ever received over the years. This was a really tough question, because I have worked with so many people who have generously shared their positive thoughts with me. As I thought about this, the story of an associate with whom I had worked early in my career came to mind. She had been one of the managers at the same small medical school in Central Illinois I mentioned last week. I’ll call her Susan.

Susan and I had worked together for nearly ten years, and it was a pleasure working with her. She was older than I, but she didn’t have a lot of experience working with faculty, so there were times when her decisions were not as inclusive as they could have been, or she had made decisions without gathering sufficient input. As I worked with her over the years, I provided feedback to help her improve in those interactions and to fully develop the potential I knew she had. I always appreciated that she listened attentively and made appropriate adjustments in her management style.

Years later at my going away party, I remember talking with Susan. She had been asked to take my position! Although I cannot recall everything she said that evening, I do remember that she said she would miss me, and I had been the only person she’d ever worked with who was willing to take the time to talk to her and give her guidance on ways she could improve. Even though I was giving her corrections, she said she still left the conversations feeling good about her performance and about herself. Without a doubt, that may be one of the best compliments I have received in my career.

I have always found giving constructive feedback to others about their performance to be very difficult. But when I think of Susan, I remember that it not only helped the team succeed, it also helped Susan achieve personal success. I think most people would agree that such conversations can be challenging. As a result, people handle it differently. Some would rather ignore problems to avoid conflict, even if it means the problem will grow. On the other hand, there are individuals who have very little difficulty pointing out what someone did incorrectly, yet they often deliver the message in a way that leaves the person on the receiving end feeling discouraged.

Whether you are a manager or a colleague, delivering your message in just the right way takes thought, skill and practice. I always try to keep in mind that most people come to work because they want to make a difference. So, I like to balance positive feedback with constructive feedback. I try to begin with something positive and complimentary, focusing on what the person is doing well. Then, I give feedback on what they can do to improve. The latter may not mean they are doing something wrong. It may simply be that there are suggestions for ways they can achieve their full potential.

I like to think of providing feedback like coaching. Coaches give feedback in real time, rather than letting things pile up. Regular feedback allows people to focus on one or two areas for improvement, rather than feeling bombarded. At the end of each practice session, the team huddles. After carefully listening to the team, it’s time for the coach to offer some helpful advice. It isn’t the time for negative criticism; rather, constructive criticism is what people need. These conversations should always happen in person (never send constructive feedback via email). This gives both parties—the coach and the team—an opportunity to talk about things in context and share their perspectives. Giving feedback is a conversation!

Suggestions should be complete so people know what they should do, and they should feel encouraged. The best feedback leaves people feeling empowered. It’s also helpful to ask questions, which gives the person receiving feedback a chance to reflect on what they might do differently. I’ve found that most of the time, people feel more motivated to make changes when they’ve realized something on their own. This does not always work, but it is a great place to start.

Meanwhile, asking questions is also an opportunity to discover what I can do to help the person improve. Am I providing clear enough direction? Am I allowing the person to have development opportunities? Am I sufficiently available for discussions? Do I listen well enough? Sometimes, in the course of the conversation, we find ways we can improve, too!

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that it can sometimes be difficult to receive constructive feedback. However, as recipients, we need to be willing to focus on what is being said and not take it personally. We need to want to improve and to do that, we have to be willing to listen to and consider what others are saying to us. Constructive criticism is a two-way street. For the best results, you need to not only be a skilled coach but also someone who is coachable. In order to effectively communicate, you must be good a listener.

Above all, I believe it is important to remember that people want to feel appreciated for their effort, especially when they were proactive or showed initiative to take on a project or task. Without a sense of appreciation, a motivated employee or colleague may take a step back in the future, finding it safer to stay silent, or preferring to wait to be told what to do instead of taking a hands-on approach.

Tom Peters is an American writer on business management practices, who asserts that leadership is about nurturing and enhancing. Leaders who lift people up get farther than those who push down. Do everything you can to support your employees and colleagues, whether it’s resources, knowledge, information, or thoughtful and constructive advice.

08.14.15 inspirational-presidential-quotes-john-adams_2

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEarly in my career, I worked as the administrator in the department of surgery of a small medical school in Central Illinois. It was a wonderful setting to begin my administrative career, because I had the chance to experience many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise been given at a much larger medical school.

One of those experiences surfaced around the advent of the personal computer. Our chair of surgery decided he wanted to replace the institutional mainframe with a local area network (LAN) for the whole department. And that would not have been a problem, except for the fact that he wanted the department to manage it, not the chief information officer (CIO) for the school.

The chair assigned one of our researchers, an individual with a great aptitude for computers, to negotiate this change with the CIO. After three months of meetings, however, neither side wanted to budge on who “owned” the network.

At that point, the chair told me that he wanted me to “broker” this deal and get the CIO to concede the management of the network to the department. Because he was my boss, I agreed, but I have to tell you I was reluctant—I knew very little about computers and even less about personal computers and local area networks! The only thing that boosted my confidence was that I generally could get people to come together and reach an agreement, even when they had not been able to before.

At the first meeting, I let the researcher and the CIO do most of the talking. I asked them to tell me, from their perspective, how each envisioned the system would be configured and implemented, and what each thought the barriers were to reaching an agreement. As the talking continued, I remember thinking that the meeting might as well have been in a foreign language, because I was not fluent in half the terminology they used once they got into specifics. I left the meeting wondering what I could ever do to move this discussion along, and I was a little concerned about whether I could actually get these two gentlemen to agree.

Rather than accept defeat, I began reading everything I could about LANs and their configuration, the future of the mainframe in a world evolving to use personal computers, and how others had managed similar implementations. I knew that in order to accomplish the job I’d been assigned, I had to educate myself. Although I was daunted by the learning curve, I was also energized by the possibility of learning about something which was definitely going to change how we worked.

When the project ended two months later, I had successfully brought the researcher and CIO to an agreement. Today, the details of that agreement have faded from memory, but what I do remember is that the CIO agreed to support us in putting the LAN in the department as a pilot for the rest of the medical school, the researcher could define the configuration, and the system would be maintained by the CIO and his team. Meanwhile, I had become the “go to” person in administration for other departments as they each began to implement their own networks.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” I had used an opportunity to increase my value to the organization and better prepare myself for a changing future. And, I had helped the departments involved maintain a positive relationship.

I believe that with the right attitude, we can completely reframe the way we experience challenges—we can take advantage of challenging situations to unlock our untapped strengths and abilities. Each time we do this, it will increase our confidence until we begin to see most challenges as opportunities to harness our personal power to an even greater degree.

I am reminded about this story each time we take on something new. We have a choice: we can either resist change or even try to keep the inevitable from happening; or, we can personally take the necessary steps and contribute to making the change a success. If you refuse to let challenges intimidate you or slow you down, you just might inspire and motivate others to do the same when they face obstacles of their own. Anytime you experience personal growth, you help the people around you in some way!

ts eliot

Trust: The Most Essential Ingredient

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Friday, I began physical therapy to rehabilitate my knee. On my way to the appointment, I was incredibly nervous. I had been told by my doctor that any slight movement could cause the patella to slip, and if it did, I would face the potential of surgery.

As I got myself into the passenger seat of the car, I started worrying about all sorts of things. What if we got into an accident and I injured my knee? What if I started movement of the knee at therapy, and the patella slipped?

Once in the treatment room, my physical therapist, Patrick, began explaining to me that we would start out by “loosening” the knee, seeing how far we could bend it, and we would end the session with trying to ride the stationary bicycle (only using some simple back and forth motions, not full rotations).

To say I was reluctant to let Patrick begin therapy on my knee was an understatement! I am so used to being in control, and at that moment, I was anything but in control. As I halfheartedly let Patrick begin therapy, I realized that in order for this to work, I had to follow his lead and completely trust him with the process. Without trust, this situation was not going to get any better. He was the expert; I was not.

Then, I remembered a quote by Stephen Covey about trust: “Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the foundational principle that holds (together) all relationships.”

As I did the exercises over the next hour, I began to think about how many times we are called upon in our lives to trust one another. Why was I so quickly able to trust Patrick in this instance? I trusted him because he had been my therapist four months earlier after a previous surgery, and the results were exceptional. I developed trust in his work, and the outcome of that trust was a well-functioning knee. I remember so many people commented on how well I was walking, they couldn’t even tell that I had surgery.

In many respects, developing trusting relationships is not unlike the work we do at UTMB, particularly in patient care. Our patients trust us to help them and to do the right thing. For that to happen, we must effectively communicate with any number of individuals on the care team. Creating a culture of safety requires trust and respect of all people working together on behalf of the patient.

A culture of safety does not happen when people are afraid to speak up. When people don’t speak up, there is no trust, and that has the potential to be harmful. We all have a responsibility to speak up when we see that shortcuts are being taken, rules are being bent, or that the system or process has the potential to do harm. As a member of the team, we must be ready to graciously welcome the feedback, because we realize that concerns are being voiced purely out of concern for someone’s safety and well-being.

Anytime a person speaks up and they are responded to with disrespect or disregard, trust is eroded, and the person who spoke up will be much less likely to speak up in the future. The person who will be harmed in such a scenario is innocent: the patient. That is not at all what we want.

In a culture of safety, the person who speaks up also has a responsibility to do so in a caring and respectful manner. It is hard to admit one is wrong or about to take a risky shortcut, so if the communication is not handled respectfully and tactfully, a loss of trust is also at stake. It is important not to point blame at the receiver of the message—no one wants to feel blamed; rather, the concern is being voiced in the context that it is helping to avoid a potential mistake.

I recently read an article about why people are reluctant to speak up, and I can relate to each reason:

  • Confronting people is difficult; too many people prefer to avoid conflict rather than respectfully addressing the issue
  • Others feel that speaking up is “not their job”
  • Some are not confident that speaking up will do any good
  • And other obstacles are time and fear of retaliation

My physical therapy has shown me the importance of trust in carrying out my plan of care, but I also feel I have a responsibility to speak up if any of the therapy movements are causing me pain or I do not “feel right”. The saying, “no pain, no gain” may be true in some instances, but it is better that I speak up and let Patrick consider if we should continue or not. If I do not, I am not being a responsible participant in my care.

I hope as we go about our work this week, we will think about our personal responsibility to create a culture of trust and safety by respectfully speaking up, or if we are on the receiving end of the message, to graciously accept our colleague’s message.

Always Trust your Instincts

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Always, always trust your first gut instincts. If you feel something’s wrong, it usually is.”

It was a Thursday morning three weeks ago, and I had started my morning the way I usually do – I got up, got ready for work, and went into the kitchen to grab my lunch from the refrigerator before leaving the house. As I rounded the corner, I was greeted by small bugs all over my kitchen floor! I immediately grabbed the insect spray and started spraying. The bugs were exterminated, but now the floor was very slick. I knew it was too dangerous to leave it that way, so I grabbed a mop and began cleaning the floor.

With the chore completed, I picked up my keys and briefcase, but I remembered I still had not grabbed my lunch. As I started carefully walking across the kitchen floor, it occurred to me that doing this was probably not a good idea—what if the floor wasn’t completely dry and I slipped, or worse yet, fell? The moment after I had that thought and yet took another step, my left leg slipped forward, my right leg bend backward, and I heard something snap. You guessed it; I broke my leg.

I cannot tell you how many times I have replayed that split second in my mind. Each time I think: “What if I had listened to my gut? I knew better, but I did it anyway!” We all have an internal alarm system that alerts us when a situation feels wrong. I ignored my instincts, and now I am dealing with the consequences.

In many ways, this reminds me of conversations we have had about patient safety and our own efforts at UTMB to create a safer environment for our patients and employees. Our culture of safety demands that we should always speak up and stop what we’re doing if we see or even instinctively feel that something could have the potential to harm a patient.

Last week, the National Patient Safety Foundation released a report entitled, “RCA2: Improving Root Cause Analyses and Actions to Prevent Harm.” The report asks hospitals and health care providers to approach close calls or observed systemic flaws with the same rigor that they do when a major safety event occurs.

The report says that even though the use of the term “culture of safety” is common in health care today, as an industry we have not really made the necessary progress, because creating this culture involves “hard, continuous work and can challenge the status quo.” The report points out that often, safety event reporting systems like our Patient Safety Net (PSN) are used to report what has already happened, not what could have happened, simply based on the system’s design.

As health care providers, we must constantly evaluate the systems in which we are delivering care, and when we are concerned that any system may have flaws, we need to act on those instincts. If we do not, we may be putting our patients at risk.

Once, in a hospital at which I’d worked, a nurse submitted a PSN report to document that the new tubing we had transitioned to for IV delivery was occasionally crimping, thus slowing the delivery of the patient’s medication. Our safety team went to the unit, looked at the new tubing, and realized the nurse was correct. They immediately ordered new tubing, replaced it throughout the hospital, and addressed the problem.

In this instance, the nurse’s instincts were right, and she acted on her instincts. Although we will never know the actual number of patients’ lives that were positively affected by this nurse’s decision to act on her instinct, what we do know is that we were able to correct a system flaw before any patient’s well-being was compromised.

I am certain there are countless stories we could tell of nurses, physicians, residents and other health care staff who have acted on their instincts to keep patients safe. The point is that they acted.

As we go about our important work, let’s be conscious of any system design that may potentially cause harm if we do not identify the flaws and fix them before a patient is affected. Let’s act on our instincts. I certainly wish I had three weeks ago!

Positive Moments, Healing Moments

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAlong a patient’s journey, she or he will encounter many different representatives of UTMB. From our website to the access center, from parking attendants to the hospital welcome desk, then on to registration, waiting rooms, nurses, physicians and more. There are so many people and settings making first impressions that can affect a patient’s experience, and the sum of all parts creates their overall impression of UTMB Health.

While the ongoing improvement of our processes will always be an aspect of enhancing the patient experience and improving the quality of care we deliver, there is one simple thing we can all do to help our patients and families feel better—radiate positive energy and compassion.

Patients want to be cared for by a team of caregivers who show an interest in them as individuals. This isn’t only important in terms of what we consider to be the “surveyed” patient experience, either. When patients feel comfortable with their care team and trust them, they are more likely to follow through with care instructions, which means fewer readmissions and an overall improved quality of life for many patients.

As a caregiver, if you walk into the room and appear pre-occupied, in a hurry, and start out by using downbeat comments, you will radiate negativity. If on the other hand, you start out with a smile and a nice compliment directed toward the patient, they will begin to feel comfortable interacting with you and will appreciate having you as their physician, nurse, or tech. Hippocrates said this so well over 2000 years ago: “Where there is love of humanity, there will be love of the profession.”

Do you remember the last time you were sick or injured? Did you feel as though you needed to stay in bed or you were told to stay in bed? To an extent, this is good as we heal, but over a period of time—even days, we might begin to feel depressed, because we are no longer active; or we may begin feeling discouraged, because we miss our regular ability to move around and perform our daily routine.

Have you or a loved one ever been a patient in the hospital? Did you understand everything the clinicians said to you? I have heard many patients and family members express how just a few words of encouragement helped them through a difficult time, or a care team member spent some time listening to the patient, and it made all the difference in that individual’s experience.

When a patient senses a positive and encouraging attitude from their care team, they will feel more motivated to push through challenging times in their recovery. A great example of this came directly from a patient advisor as she recounted her recent experience at UTMB: “My care tech was motivational, positive and cheerful, and that really made me want to get out of bed and get moving so I could get better.”

Beyond a doubt, patients want to be engaged in their care and to understand what procedure is being performed and why; they want to know the identity and role of each individual who enters and exits their room. They want to know what to expect while they are in our care and what they can do to heal better and faster. But they also want to feel as though they are cared about, not just cared for.

Making a positive impression on our patients and families can be achieved in just a few simple ways:

  • Smiles are powerful, so smile!
  • Take a deep breath before entering each patient’s room and exhale slowly if you’ve been rushing about. This allows you to leave the stress at the door and enter the room with a positive attitude.
  • When speaking, try to do so slowly and clearly—research shows that individuals who do so are perceived to sound more credible than those who speak quickly.
  • Allow patients and families the chance to ask questions, listen to their questions and concerns, and ask them to verbalize their care instructions.
  • Maintain a friendly, open and engaged demeanor. This includes your body language as well as your verbal language.
  • Make eye contact. It clearly demonstrates that you are actively listening to the patient, which they will appreciate.
  • Acknowledge others in the room, such as a family member. Be sure to get their name, and shake their hands, if appropriate. This acknowledgment is very important since you want to create a positive impression with the family members—they will play key roles in the patient’s compliance; and keep in mind, the family member is also going back to the community to share their experiences.

I hope you will take a moment to watch the following five-minute video, shared by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. It is the story shared of Gilbert Salinas, a patient who was inspired to become a patient advocate because of the wonderful care he received almost 20 years ago. It is the story of a nurse holding a hand, a physician pulling up a chair, and a therapist helping a paralyzed man reclaim a life. It is a story full of positive energy – and lessons for students and health care professionals everywhere.

Whatever your role at UTMB, how do you contribute to a better patient experience? How do you want the UTMB Health System to be perceived by our patients and families? The little things we say and do speak volumes, symbolizing our attitude toward patient care and the medical services we offer. Our compassion and the positivity we radiate can make a big impact in someone’s life!

 

Working Hard: Allow Your Purpose to Be Your Passion

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn the past couple of years, I have started using social media, because I have found it to be a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, whether they are nearby or living across the country. Most often, my social media platform of choice is Facebook, because it is a terrific way to see pictures of my grandchildren each day and watch them grow.

I also enjoy seeing people’s posts of their favorite sayings. Even though the sayings do not always resonate with me on a personal level, from time to time, I come across a saying that really strikes me. This happened a few days ago when someone posted: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” How true!

Years ago, my daughter, Shannon, was in the final stretch of completing her MBA program, and she had started interviewing for jobs. She was considering offers at several big consulting firms, as well as a large energy provider. She called me one evening to talk about her dilemma. While the amount of money she could make if she chose to work at one of the consulting firms or the energy company was appealing, she kept thinking about an interview she’d had with United Way.

She told me that she really wanted to take the job offer with United Way, because she felt she would make a bigger impact in other people’s lives than she would at a consulting firm. Making an impact was really important to her. Yet, her friends kept telling her it would be a mistake to choose a non-profit organization, because she would never make the money there that she could earn in the private sector.

She and I talked about this for a while, and then I gave her my advice: We will all spend many hours at work, which will add up to a good part of our lives—we will often spend as much time with our work colleagues as we do with our own families, if not more. Thus, we should love what we do, so that when we get up each morning, we are energized at the possibilities that are before us at work.

My daughter eventually took the job with United Way and has not looked back. For Shannon, she put her business degrees to the best use by making the business case for individuals to give to those who are not as fortunate as many of us.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many master’s prepared students over the years, and in the capacity as their preceptor, I have been able to provide career guidance. My message to them as they consider the various areas within health care they could work is to choose their passion. If you are passionate about your work, you will always love what you do.

I know that we face many changes and challenges as an organization, yet each day, I am excited to come to work. While I cannot provide direct patient care, in my work, I can influence decisions that will directly and positively impact our patients. I also have the opportunity to hear each day about the ways each of you positively impacts our patients and their families. That, in itself, is enough to keep me motivated and passionate about what I do.

I started a habit many years ago. Each day as I drive home, I try to reflect on the biggest impact I made that day. This practice has helped me to remain focused on the positive, rather than on the things that I found stressful or non-productive. I end the day with a smile on my face and feeling good about the work I have accomplished.

I hope that each one of you will focus on the positive contributions you make each day at UTMB. I know as I hear from your colleagues, your patients and their family members, you are each making positive contributions to the overall success of UTMB Health. Let’s make a habit of starting and ending each day thinking about the positive possibilities and the positive work that we impact. In doing so, we will remain passionate about our work and its impact on others.

A Story of Care and Compassion

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I would like to share a letter from a patient’s family member, who was very complimentary of the level of patient care, compassion and professionalism the family experienced at UTMB.

Direct patient and family feedback is one of the most valuable ways we can identify areas in which we are performing well and areas in which we can improve. No matter how well we do, we should always strive to make the experience better. I admit, I became teary eyed as I read this letter, because I could tell how very much our patient care teams truly care, and I could empathize with how much it meant to this family during a very difficult time.

While the family of this patient was extremely grateful for all of the care and support they received, there were a couple of situations in which they suggested we could improve; I think that it is important to share that feedback, just as much as the positive aspects. For example, we must remember to always use discretion and confidentiality when discussing patient status—this is important not only from a privacy point of view, but also out of consideration of the patient’s and family’s emotional reactions to any news they receive.

Additionally, while we often have a tendency to explain things in full detail when everything is going well, we must also remember to disclose what is taking place behind the scenes, such as when unexpected wait times occur. When a family feels well-informed at all times, it can greatly reduce the anxiety they may be experiencing.

The following letter has been edited to protect patient privacy:

I’m writing you this letter to let you know of the wonderful care [my husband] received from February 26 until his passing on April 23, 2015. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I kept notes and tried to write down all of the wonderful things that happened. I have decided that I will just list all of the special people at the end of this letter. I hope that they and their supervisor are made aware of this letter. They all truly did “Go That Extra Mile” in [his] care. True care and compassion is not something that can be faked; if a person shows compassion, it is genuine.

My family and I have been involved with UTMB Galveston since moving to the island in 1992. I was even employed at the university for several years. Our family has watched UTMB transition through those years, and I can honestly say that the level of care my husband received exceeded all of our expectations. There have been times over this 20-year period where as a patient, you felt more like a project or an obligation. That is not the case now. The care that my husband received was professional and compassionate. There were so many times that the staff took time to include [the family] not only in his care, but to show genuine concern and compassion for us as well. This meant so much to us over our 57-day journey.

The continuity of his care was evident all along his stay, from the ER staff to the respiratory care team, the SICU staff and trauma staff. I saw firsthand how each team took time to explain to the oncoming shift what had happened and what was planned. One thing that truly impressed me was how a critically ill patient is transported to radiology or other procedures. It was always a comfort to know that my husband was never alone through all of this—he always had at least one person that was dedicated to him and his care. That means more than you can know to a family member.

I was with my husband from the first day to the last. I was anxious as it was explained to me what was wrong and what we were to expect. My anxiety became better controlled once I got to witness the trauma team and SICU staff in action. We were told that the first weekend was critical—of course, this was initially after the first surgery. I appreciated the physician’s reluctance to label my husband as critical; unfortunately, he was critical from the beginning to the end. We had a few days of consciousness—that was always a blessing to him with his eyes open. They did a great job of keeping him pain free.

There was one night shortly after his initial surgery that he developed a problem, and we all had to rush to the hospital. A wonderful nurse, Rachel Murphy, held my hands and told me that we were in a marathon, not a sprint. Those words were just what I needed to hear. I will be forever in her debt; those words helped me through this ordeal more than she will ever know.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Janie Pietramale, the outstanding volunteer that handles the surgery waiting room. Janie took the time to get to know us. Her words were always comforting and filled with such genuine compassion. She deserves recognition for the positive impact she has on families at such a stressful time in their lives.

The parking garage staff of Garage 1 showed compassion beyond the scope of their jobs. When you are in the hospital for 57 days, you start making friends all over the place. When they would ask how that day went, I knew that it was sincere and not small talk. Many times, I was able to drive away with a little extra comfort from one of these beautiful ladies.

As with any situation, there is always room for improvement. There seemed to be a delay in medication as it was ordered and delivered. I know that logistically things have to be done, but more than once during our stay, my husband was waiting for medication to be brought up from the pharmacy. Hopefully this is something you can look into. There was also a problem and delay with his initial Wound-Vac. I am not sure of the problems or delays, but hopefully this can be corrected before another patient needs one.

I believe it would be beneficial for there to be a counseling room set up near the surgery waiting area. As it is now, physicians or staff come out to let the family know how the surgery went. It is discussed openly where everyone can hear. This was not a problem for me personally, but I did hear some comments about it being discussed so openly.

I want to close this letter with my sincere thanks to everyone involved in my husband’s care. Our final day came on April 23, 2015. Dr. Lance Griffin and his team and SICU staff did such a wonderful job in helping us through that final day. [My husband] was able to go peacefully and pain free with us by his side. This was their final act of compassion when we needed it the most.

The opportunities for improvement are welcomed comments as we look for ways we can make Health System operations better for our patients. I know that our pharmacy team is doing all that it can to minimize delays in medications arriving on the floor. The same is true for getting needed patient equipment to the floor. In addition, the comment about the counseling room speaks to the need for the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, because we have been able to incorporate sorely needed support spaces into the design that simply are not available in the John Sealy Hospital. While we do have a private consultation room near the surgery waiting area, it is clear that we need to do a better job of communicating this resource.

Letters like this are so important because they allow us to look at what we are doing well and do more of it. At the same time, it gives us a chance to see the care we deliver through our patient’s eyes and find ways we can improve.

A final word: in light of this week’s inclement weather, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who truly went above and beyond to ensure our patients and families received the very best care and service. They truly put their trust in us to do so, and I know this is a reflection of the work you do each day. Thank you for working together to work wonders!

 

At UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Saturday, I attended the annual American Heart Association’s Black Tie & Boots Gala. Each year, the event raises funds for research of a specific disease or condition, and a guest speaker—who is a survivor—tells the story of their own experience. In addition to cardiovascular-related research, donations raised at local American Heart Association events help fund clinician scientists who are leading the efforts in stroke research, and that is what the gala supported this year.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke, and every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain; it occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

This year, Sharon Bourg, a UTMB nurse in the Emergency Department, was the guest speaker and shared her very moving personal story.

One day, while caring for a patient in the Emergency Room, Sharon had difficulty putting the blood pressure cuff on her patient’s arm. This was something she’d never had trouble with before. The patient noticed Sharon was having difficulty and that she did not seem well. The patient asked her if she was feeling okay, but Sharon didn’t realize anything was seriously wrong. She felt as though the words she spoke were coming out just fine. But they were not. A moment later, Sharon collapsed and was unable to speak or move. It was the patient who alerted the ER staff by hitting the nurse call button. Immediately Sharon was surrounded by her co-workers, who began working quickly to save her life.

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Christine Wade, ED Nursing Director, and Sharon Bourg, ED Nurse at the 2015 AHA Gala

Fortunately, today Sharon has no residual signs of her stroke, because she quickly received the necessary and very important care she needed. There is a saying: “Time is brain.” Once a stroke begins, neurons in the brain start to rapidly deteriorate, and victims lose 10 percent of salvageable brain for every 15 minutes that they go untreated. Therefore, limiting the extent of damage requires urgent, expert evaluation and treatment.

Sharon and other patients who come to UTMB are in good hands when it comes to stroke care—after all, at UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own! Precious moments awaiting treatment do not have to be wasted thanks to the expertise and training of the staff of our Emergency Room and the Stroke, Neurovascular and Neurointerventional team. In fact, UTMB is a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center, and the team is working hard to become a Comprehensive Center.

It is because of the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke that Sharon agreed to share her story with the UTMB community, as well as at the AHA fundraising event. If you think you are having a stroke or notice the following signs in someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call for help right away! F.A.S.T. is:

  • Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Since 2012, the American Heart Association (AHA) has raised over $1 million through donations in Galveston. In the video below, Christine Wade, ED Nurse Director, comments on the tremendous strides that have been made in the treatment and care of stroke patients over the years, thanks in great part to the funding received from organizations like AHA. Please take a moment to watch Sharon’s story and learn about the outstanding teamwork at UTMB that saved her life. If you’re interested in supporting the continued research efforts of stroke and heart disease, please visit the website of the American Heart Association or American Stroke Association.

If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout six years ago, my daughter, Shannon, decided she wanted to train for the Houston Marathon. Prior to this, she had never run even a half-marathon, so she knew she would need to start training a year ahead of time in order to be ready. She also asked her husband, who was a dedicated runner, to run alongside her the day of the marathon. When I asked her why she wanted Wes to run with her, she said she wanted him there to encourage her to continue when she reached the point in the race where she would want to quit.

The race went as planned, and about two-thirds of the way into it, she “hit the wall”. At this point, Wes encouraged her to keep going and continued to do so until the finish line of the race was literally in sight. They both finished the race! No records were set that day, but the personal satisfaction of finishing what she started has given Shannon a great sense of personal satisfaction. She later told me that had it not been for Wes, she probably would not have finished the race. Meanwhile, Wes told me the satisfaction he got from helping Shannon meet her personal goal was very satisfying to him, as well. Together, they were able to go far!

UTMB’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Selwyn Rogers, recently shared a quote that resonated with me. It’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Shannon’s vision to run and finish a marathon was supported by her strategy to surround herself by someone with whom she had a strong relationship and who she knew she could depend on for support during her journey to the finish line. Meanwhile, individual abilities like Wes’s endurance and supporting nature also contributed to their shared success in completing an amazing challenge together.

When we set out on a journey, whether it is in pursuit of something we wish to achieve individually or as a team, it’s easy to start off feeling very ambitious. But it’s also important to realize what will be required to sustain our progress. There are a couple of important things about success that Shannon’s experience illustrated to me: it’s important to prepare for our journey, whatever that may be, and recognize when we will need the help of others; and, if we don’t pace ourselves accordingly or don’t have the right support in place along the way, we may either run out of steam or feel like quitting before we reach our goal.

Discovering what we can accomplish as an individual (that is, our strengths and our talent) is something that we can use to support others on our team and encourage them along. Our own personal gifts can often help everyone go further and make the collective achievement even greater. Success is more than simply defining our goals and then determining how we can most rapidly achieve them with the greatest odds of success. It’s about constantly surrounding ourselves with amazing, talented people and building deep relationships with them along the way to success.

These are keys points to remember as we travel The Road Ahead!