An attitude of gratitude reinforces our value of compassion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Joint Commission Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your unrelenting commitment to excellence!



Random Acts of Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Cover your mouth, disinfect your hands, and hide your children!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIt’s official—it’s cold and flu season. Although we are only in the first weeks of the season, the first case of the flu in our area was recently reported in League City. Now is the time to guard yourself against illness. Flu season usually peaks between December and February.

The last time I had the flu was in January 2014. I woke up on my birthday with respiratory symptoms, fever and chills. I pulled up the calendar on my phone and saw it was full of many important meetings that day. I decided that I really needed to be present, so I pulled myself together and went to work. Much to my chagrin, the folks with whom I work immediately chastised me for coming to work sick. Did I intend to infect everyone, they asked? I always insist that people not come to work when contagiously ill, but that day, I had failed in setting the example! Although I tried to power my way through the day, I quickly ended up back home and in bed.

Most of us are familiar with the usual symptoms of the cold and flu, which include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough. However, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses, and flu symptoms are more intense than the common cold. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. While colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations, the flu can be dangerous—even life threatening, especially in children younger than five and adults 65 years of age or older.

Heightened attention is given to flu prevention each year, because the virus spreads easily and the severity of the virus from season to season can be difficult to predict. A person may be contagious an entire day before they begin to experience flu symptoms, and once a person has the flu, coughing can spread the virus up to six feet away. It is possible to remain contagious anywhere from five to seven days after becoming sick, and children may remain contagious even longer.

That’s why now is the time to ramp up prevention habits, like frequently washing or sanitizing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—these are common ways viruses enter the body. Other good health habits, like eating a balanced diet, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep also can help protect you from illness. However, the best defense against catching the flu is vaccination.

Getting vaccinated before the flu hits is important, because it takes nearly two weeks for full protection to set in. Some of you may recall that last year’s flu vaccine didn’t protect against all of the strains of the flu. This year’s vaccines have been updated with two new flu strains and should be much more effective. While flu vaccination is especially important for employees who routinely work in patient care areas, I think it’s safe to say that none of us are interested in suffering in bed this season!

UTMB’s Employee Health Clinic offers free flu shots to employees, retirees and volunteers (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., no appointment necessary). Employees who work in Correctional Managed Care (CMC) will have specific instructions on where they can go as a UTMB employee to receive their flu shot—contact your manager or director for details. Anyone can get vaccinated at an affordable cost at most local pharmacies or by making an appointment with their primary care provider.

If you do get sick this season, whether with a cold or flu, do your best to stay home until you are no longer contagious. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you need to see a doctor, please remember that UTMB offers employees convenient, same-day access to primary care through the Employee Access 2-Care program, which guarantees a primary care appointment within 24 hours.

To schedule an Access 2-Care appointment, employees can simply dial 2-CARE (ext. 2-2273) while on campus or (409) 772-2273. Let the access representative know you are a UTMB employee to receive the 24-hour guarantee. Please note that your wait time may exceed the guaranteed timeframe if you want to see a specific physician. In that case, you may either wait to see the requested physician or make an appointment with another physician within the guaranteed time frame. Note that specialty care appointments are also available through the program (in a 14-day appointment window), and no referral is required to set up an appointment with a specialist.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Make it a flu-free season, and get your flu shot today. If you do come down with a cold or flu this season, remember UTMB’s Employee Access 2-Care Program is at your service!


It is always darkest before the dawn.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“It is always darkest before the dawn.” Attributed to Thomas Fuller, an English theologian and historian, this is a quote I have heard as long as I can remember. Scientifically, the darkest part of the night is actually at midnight, when the surface of the earth has rotated 180 degrees away from the sun. Nevertheless, the sentiment of “darkest before dawn” resonates with many people, because the words are understood as encouragement during difficult times, giving hope and inspiration to take the next step until a better day or time arrives.

I have thought often about this quote in the context of what I now jokingly call my “year of the knee”. I have written in past Friday Flash entries about the knee surgery I had in March, and then my fall in June when I broke my leg, and after that, the rehabilitation I have experienced on my journey to be able to walk normally and without pain again. All throughout last week and this past weekend, I wondered if I would ever be able to enjoy walking on the beach, traveling to see new places, or sitting on the floor with my grandchildren again.

Despite the exercises and rehabilitation sessions, my progress seemed to be at a standstill. This past Saturday, the day after my physical therapy session, I woke up in even more pain, rather than less. I was starting to finally feel a little discouraged. However, I powered through my exercises, and on Monday when I woke up, the pain had subsided and my function was better than it had been any time since June.

So far this week, I have been walking better and without much discomfort. I am beginning to see the dawn! Although I would prefer to never go through this experience again, it has had its bright points. I am appreciative of so many things I can now do that just three months ago were not possible. I have had time to catch up with family and friends, because I have been restricted from doing the usual activities that often filled my time on nights and weekends. I reflect somewhat sheepishly that it took this injury and my limited mobility to make me appreciate so many things I had taken for granted before.

In many ways, my experience is symbolic of the environment in which we work today. Just like our peer organizations, UTMB is undergoing a tremendous amount of change—there is little doubt about it! Many of our initiatives have resulted from external forces over which we have little control, like multiple pay-for-performance programs or the implementation of the ICD-10 classification system. While these activities have often been a lot of work, sometimes adding stress to our day, and they haven’t always come at times when we felt like we were ready to address their intricacy, they are designed to improve quality of care and we must participate in them.

Meanwhile, there are initiatives that we have intentionally chosen to carry out at UTMB, because we understand that in order to be well positioned for the future, we must be proactive and strategic. We have had to learn a lot in a short amount of time to accomplish many of the challenging goals we set. In taking on new responsibilities and raising the bar in many ways, we have had to start doing many things differently, like working across teams and creating new partnerships. In the past year alone, we’ve opened new clinic locations, consolidated service locations, and partnered with additional community practices to better coordinate care. We successfully closed fiscal year 2015 with a positive margin, while our inpatient discharges increased by 11 percent and our outpatient encounters have grown by 16 percent. In just a matter of months, we will begin activation of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital and open the League City Hospital. We are doing exceptionally well compared to many other academic medical centers in the country!

There are days that are tough, but building our future on a strong foundation is crucial, and knowing success is just around the bend is what helps us push through. Soon, we will see the daybreak—we will make the quantum leap in quality and safety that we are working toward, we will begin caring for our patients and their families in our beautiful new hospitals, and we will continue forging new partnerships to better coordinate care in the communities we serve.

When we approach changes and challenges confidently and with a determined spirit—even though it means sometimes stepping outside of our comfort zone, we grow. Through the new knowledge we gain, we are able to make valuable contributions wherever our paths lead.

Thank you to everyone in every role at UTMB Health for the work you do each day to make our organization an excellent place for patients to receive care!

darkest before dawn

Repair the Roof When the Sun Is Shining

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemPresident John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

It’s true—most of the time, we don’t go about our day with an expectation that an adverse event will occur. But unfortunately, sometimes there are emergency situations, whether or not we are prepared for them. And sometimes in health care, people make mistakes that result in patient harm, despite having the best intentions when caring for someone. This is why it is so important that at UTMB, we devote ourselves every day to promoting patient safety, environmental safety, proper patient identification, medication safety, infection control and effective communication, whatever our role may be.

For some time now, the Health System has been on high alert, busily preparing for our Joint Commission re-accreditation survey. However, the preparations and safety measures on which we are currently so acutely focused are things we should always be doing to ensure the safety of our patients and staff. Whether it is focusing on prevention, communication, processes, documentation, or ensuring pathways are clear in case of emergency, we must always be alert. Our re-accreditation survey window, which extends through the next two months, has been a great opportunity to reinvigorate our current efforts to ensure we are providing the safest possible care for our patients, families and one another.

Just as achieving high reliability in health care is a daily endeavor, our successful completion of the survey will require the cooperation and support of every provider and staff member. After the survey, our competitors, affiliates, managed care and insurance companies, referring physicians and, most impor­tantly, our patients and their families will be able to read the details of our performance. I believe the results they see will truly reflect that every UTMB faculty member, clinician and employee at every level is committed to providing excellent patient care!

Why is a good accreditation survey so important? The Joint Commission accreditation survey is a nationwide seal of approval indicating that UTMB meets high quality and safety perfor­mance standards. It says we deliver the best care to all of our patients in a safe environment. Therefore, we must remain committed to zero patient harm, a culture of safety, and continual process improvement. Never ignore or tolerate unsafe conditions, behaviors and practices, and when or if we see something that could be unsafe or cause harm, we must communicate clearly and close the loop on conversations with our team. If needed, escalate issues. It’s simply the right thing to do for our patients.

Our success on the survey will require everyone’s familiarity with Joint Commission requirements in their particular area, and I have full confidence in our teams that we will be fully prepared for the survey. Please review the materials provided on UTMB’s Joint Commission website, including readiness checklists and the preparedness handbook. If you are a manager or supervisor, review employee readiness tips with your team when you have your weekly relay meetings, especially handbook sections “How to Participate in the TJC Survey” and “Other Helpful Hints for the Survey” on pages 12-13.

Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes once said, “To be prepared is half the victory.” Perhaps the other half is to remain vigilant!

If you have questions about Joint Commission standards, please contact Janet DuBois, Associate Director of Accreditation. For more information on Joint Commission Accreditation preparedness in your area, please visit

Thank you for your dedication to delivering excellent care and service to our patients and families!

Defining Moments

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemToday, I couldn’t help but think about how events in history shape and define us. For each generation, there has been a major historical event or time in history that people remember as having irrevocably changed their lives.

For my children’s generation, and for most of us, we remember where we were and what we were doing the morning of September 11, 2001, when two planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and two others into the Pentagon and a small town in Pennsylvania. It was the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil and a day we would never forget.

My generation remembers the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was a leader who could inspire and motivate people, and we can tell you exactly where we were when we heard the news on November 22, 1963. My parent’s generation remembers Pearl Harbor Day—it was just before eight o’clock in the morning on December 7, 1941, when hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. The next day, the U.S. joined World War II. And for my grandparent’s generation, it was the Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as Black Tuesday. In the aftermath, America and the rest of the industrialized world spiraled into the Great Depression, the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in history up to that time.

In all of these instances, the world changed and so did we. But just as our lives can be shaped by world events, we are also shaped by personal life experiences. We are shaped by happy occasions that become memories we hold dear, like the day we met our best friend or spouse, or the birth of a child or a grandchild. We are shaped by events that whisk us down paths we had not anticipated or wanted, like the death of a loved one or a life-changing health diagnosis. We are shaped by temporary events, like recovering from a storm or healing from an injury. Even though we may fully recover, we are yet changed by our experience.

Even witnessing the life events of others can be transformational. Early in my career in hospital administration, I had a defining moment that changed me forever. Since that time, I have approached my work and my outlook on my day in a completely different way. I want to share that experience with you.

It was after seven o’clock one evening, as I was packing up my “homework” in my office. In my mind, it had been a terrible day. I don’t recall what had made it so terrible, but I do remember I was glad it was over. I was in a pretty bad mood. My office was on the second floor, so I took the stairs down one flight to the main lobby. As I pushed open the door, I noticed a young family seated in the lobby. I could see the mother was a cancer patient. She wore a scarf on her head and was surrounded by the tubes connected to her IV pole. A man who appeared to be her husband was seated across from her, and there were three children sitting on the floor around them. They were all smiling and laughing.

I stopped in my tracks. Suddenly, I felt very selfish. Here I was in a bad mood, completely focused on the terrible day that I had, while there was a family sitting before me who had every reason to think and act like they were having a bad day, but they were smiling and enjoying each other’s company. I decided right then and there I was not going to have bad days at work anymore. I realized that my attitude about each day was based only on my perspective, not reality. As long I remembered the reason I came to work each day—to help others take care of our patients in the best possible way—then all of my days would be good days.

I also realized that I had a responsibility to carry myself in a positive way, because our patients were counting on all of us. Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” I know from my own experience as a patient that when we are not well, we tend to be more focused on ourselves than we are normally. The same applies to family members preoccupied by concerns about a loved one. That’s why our patients and families need us to stay focused on them, and they want us to be supportive, understanding and compassionate. The interactions they have with us largely determine how they perceive the quality of their experience.

I recently received a letter from a family member that demonstrates how everyone on the care team, from those who deliver care to those in supporting roles, like financial services, makes an impact:

“Thank you for all of your help with my mother-in-law’s account. I have been taking care of the financial needs for my father-in-law since he is taking care of my mother-in-law now until she passes…I want to let you know how appreciative we have all been during this very difficult time. [My mother-in-law] will most likely pass away any day now, and it has been very difficult for my wife and father-in-law, as you could imagine…Everyone that was providing care for her has been absolutely amazing. We could have asked for a better outcome but not better care or service. I will never forget our time in Galveston at the hospital and how impressed I was with the care [she] got. Thank you.”

I know how busy you all are, and I appreciate the work that you do to make sure that we are caring for our patients in the best possible way:

  • For those of you in direct patient care who are having the busiest of days but still take time to lend an ear to a patient in need of support or to share a few words of encouragement, thank you.
  • For those who finish the day having met the needs of your patients only to face an evening of documentation or a long list of emails and MyChart messages, thank you. Please be assured that we have heard your concerns and are working hard to improve our processes and systems so that you will be able to spend more time with your patients and your families.
  • For those who see a colleague in need of assistance and come to their aid, thank you.
  • For those who answer phone calls and do all that you can to help a patient get an appointment scheduled or a question answered, thank you.
  • For every smile you give, or every time you stop to give directions or help a patient or family member to their destination, thank you.

This day of the year reminds us of the fragile and unpredictable nature of life. Thank you to each and every one of you who comes to work each day ready to support our patients and their families, sharing in the joyful moments, as well as the sorrowful ones. We never know when that kind gesture or swift and skillful intervention will be the defining moment in someone’s life.

positive attitude

Create a culture in which excellence can flourish.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Whatever you or the public may consider quality to be, this definition is always a safe guide to follow: Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” ~Will A. Foster

Each New Year is a chance to commit to what we hope to achieve in the future. Last week, we established four areas in which we will focus to be successful this year: continued investments in our people, quantum leaps in quality and safety, transparency with our outcomes, and the wise use of our resources. In this first Friday Flash message of FY16, I’d like to explore our focus on quality.

Quality is defined as the standard of something measured against other things of a similar kind—the degree of excellence of something. It can mean everything from caliber or condition, character or worth, and it can be good or poor. Defining health care quality, however, is a little more technical. In fact, if you conduct an internet search for the words “health care quality” you’ll find a long list of organizations working to promote health care quality in hospitals, and you’ll also see numerous guides on how to improve in areas like patient outcomes, 30-day readmissions, and healthcare-associated infections. You may even find an infographic or two on reimbursement calculations!

To make a long story short, much of what is out there is written by the health care industry for the health care industry—and it is complex! As an industry, we even have had to find a way to state it simply to steady our focus. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the federal government’s leading agency, defines quality health care as “doing the right thing for the right patient, at the right time, in the right way to achieve the best possible results.”

But what do our patients and their families think “quality” health care means, and what do they expect of us when we say that we are committed to quality? Several years ago, in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Allan Detsky, an internist and health policy expert at the University of Toronto, identified criteria that patients expect when asked what they really want from health care.

He found, as one would expect, that patients want the best health care—they want to know that their care team is highly qualified and experienced, and they want to know the care they will receive is reliable, based on feedback from people they know, a referring physician, or other patients. This is not to say that patients don’t value statistics—our quality performance is currently publicly reported, so patients can compare us against other providers and know whether or not we are an excellent place to come for health care. It’s simply that they are more focused on whether the treatments they will receive will work in their specific case or condition.

The list of criteria is long, but the following are the most important aspects of care patients identified:

  • Timeliness. Patients desire access to services in a timely fashion.
  • Kindness. Patients want to be treated with kindness, empathy, and with respect for their privacy.
  • Hope and certainty. Even in dire situations, patients want to have hope and be offered options that may help. Patients and families are uncomfortable with uncertainty about diagnoses and prognoses. Therefore, they want to feel well informed, participate in decision making, and prefer active strategies.
  • Continuity, choice, coordination. Patients want continuity of care and choice. They want to build a relationship with a health care professional or team in whom they have confidence and have that same person or team care for them in each episode of a similar illness. They want the members of their health care team to communicate with each other to coordinate their care.
  • Privacy. Patients want to be hospitalized in their own room with their own bathroom and no roommate (this is something we proudly offer our patients at UTMB).
  • Low out-of-pocket costs. Patients want to pay as little as possible from their own pocket at the point of service delivery.
  • Medications and surgery. Patients prefer treatments that they perceive will require little effort on their part. Essentially, they want to feel “well taken care of”.

There is a much more important, patient-focused reason for making quality improvements: it’s the right thing to do. When we safely heal people and they have a positive experience in our care, they are more likely to follow through with their doctor’s advice and manage their disease processes, which leads to better patient outcomes and healthier patients in the future.

So, let’s focus on our patients’ experiences, with the understanding that they already trust us to do the right thing by delivering safe, evidence-based care and they trust us to monitor our own performance, much in the same way that we all trust airlines to make sure the plane is functioning well before takeoff!

Every individual in every role at UTMB impacts the patient experience in one way or another. This is why we must all focus on making the necessary changes to create a culture in which excellence can flourish. Whatever our work entails, we should reflect on the following:

  • Do we work together as a team, and are we committed to a culture of trust and safety, in which we can express our thoughts and concerns and constructively think together?
  • Do we demonstrate integrity by always doing the right thing for our patients and their families?
  • Do we show compassion and respect to all, so we not only work well together, but so that we are able to comfort patients and families during challenging times, or support them so they are motivated to heal? Do we promptly respond to patient and family concerns, whether by phone or the call button? Are we willing to take the time to explain things clearly and answer all of their questions?
  • Do we value diversity so that we can understand patients’ perspectives and preferences and fully engage them and their families in making decisions about their care and treatment?
  • Are we committed to lifelong learning, so that we are able to apply new knowledge and always explore better ways to enhance outcomes while remaining vigilant to assure patients’ safety?

If we are firmly committed to quality, and we practice safety measures the same way, every patient, every time, we will not only improve our performance, but we will be better able to focus on the experience of our patients and their families. At UTMB, we should always 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.”

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.

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