Teamwork and Trust

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemContinuing with last week’s theme of college basketball (and in honor of March Madness), I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the different aspects of basketball that foster teamwork and trust. It is fascinating to me that a group of individuals can join together as a team, and even though many of the team members may have never played together in the past, they can become good enough over the course of two to four years that they can always count on one another to be at a particular place on the court during a set point in a specific play.

Practice after practice, the team drills the offensive and defensive plays developed by their coach to become consistent, and through this intense practice and repetition, the plays become second nature—the team develops an intense trust of one another and their coach, and decisions about passing and shooting become instinctive.

The one move that amazes me most is the blind pass, which occurs when the player with the ball looks in one direction but passes in another. This is done to confuse the opposing team’s defense. It is not an easy move, and it is definitely risky, but when it happens and works, it is truly remarkable. I remember the first player I ever saw do this with any regularity was Pistol Pete Maravich, but other greats such as Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Nash and Michael Jordan all also used this pass with some regularity. And most of the time, this type of pass successfully caught the other team off guard, resulting in points scored.

I would imagine in order to effectively carry off the blind pass, each member of the team must understand everyone’s roles well, knowing they can count on one another to be where they should be at a specific moment and time, doing their defined job; they also have to believe their teammates are sufficiently capable. This is really the only way any team can optimally perform!

In many respects, we have our own blind passes in health care. For example, think about how important it is for each member of the team in the emergency department to know their own role as well as that of others on their team. They must trust and have confidence in one another. When seconds matter, as they often do in the ER, being able to act deliberately, consistently and predictably can mean the difference between life and death. And, it is the same in the operating room and on the inpatient units when acting decisively is critical to the outcome for the patient.

In the clinics, the pressure of time may not be as intense, but when a patient needs an appointment or calls with an issue they need to discuss with us, it is important for each member on our team to know their role and perform predictably. If not, we ultimately let the patient down, and our lack of responsiveness could mean we have lost the opportunity to intervene during a time when we could help prevent the patient from becoming increasingly ill and/or having to be admitted to the hospital.

Finally, a good blind pass requires great communication on the court—and, so it is with health care. As we work in teams, being able to be open and forthright with each other regarding the care of each patient is essential. It is critical that every member of the team respects one another and encourages each other to speak up when they are concerned about any aspect of the patient’s plan of care. After all, it is only in an environment of mutual respect and explicit trust that people feel comfortable speaking up. A team is not a group of people who merely work together; a team is a group of people who trust each other.

Phil Jackson is an American professional basketball executive, former coach and former player, who currently serves as president of the New York Knicks in the NBA. He says, “Good teams become great ones, when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we’”.

So, how will WE work together to work wonders for our patients and their families today?

Focusing on our Future

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their hostess at dinner, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”

Focus is not just something you have—it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. When people are focused on just a few things, they are usually successful; but when they focus on too many things, the quality, value and timeliness of their work often suffers. Meanwhile, after someone achieves success, they often find themselves suddenly presented with many more new opportunities and options. However, this sudden influx of new opportunities can ironically become the very thing that diffuses what brought success in the first place: it becomes difficult to effectively focus!

Just imagine what would have happened to Ray Kroc, the salesman who turned McDonald’s into a franchise, if after opening twenty McDonald’s locations, he decided to get into the pizza business?

By now, you should all be familiar with UTMB’s new document, The Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future and the plan that forms the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area: the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support. UTMB President Dr. David Callender recently reviewed the booklet at our most recent Town Hall meeting, and as I’ve attended different meetings and conferences at UTMB, I’ve shared the document with our Health System and Correctional Managed Care teams, as well. If you haven’t seen the document yet, please visit http://www.utmb.edu/strategic_vision.

Why did we feel it was important to revise The Road Ahead? One of the greatest reasons for this change was leadership’s realization that we were trying to do too many things. By distilling our priorities down to the very essence of what we want to achieve, it will not only help everyone remember what we are focused on at UTMB, but it will also help our employees and faculty connect to what is essential to our success as we move forward. Therefore, in the new document we streamlined our strategic priorities, the foundation for our strategic vision to “be the best”, from a total of eight priorities down to four key priorities:  People, Value, Strategic Growth & Management, and Resources.

A while back, I read an article in Havard Business Review, written by Greg McKeown, about how in today’s society, we have a tendency to always take on more, more, and more. In doing so, the state of being overwhelmingly busy is sometimes perceived as possessing some sort of superhuman quality. But in reality, this sort of frenetic pace and perception of success can actually end up negatively impacting the quality of our overall performance—all of our endeavors, especially the most important ones, do not get the attention they deserve for successful outcomes. And we also diminish our own effectiveness as we jump from one thing to another.

McKeown compares the process of identifying our essential tasks and remaining focused on them with the great feeling we get when we box up the old clothes we don’t wear anymore and give them away. The closet clutter is gone. We feel freer. So, wouldn’t it feel liberating and energizing to clean out the closets of our overstuffed to-do lists and give away or eliminate the nonessential items, so we can focus our attention on the things that truly matter?

The pace of growth at UTMB is greater than ever. It’s a very exciting time, but at times it can also feel a little overwhelming—I’m sure every one of you can attest to this. On March 9, at my upcoming Mondays in March presentation, I’ll discuss how the Health System has progressed since FY2013, when it established its vision for the future. I’ll also talk about some of the specific things we’ll be focusing on in the coming year as they pertain to each of our strategic priorities. Then, we’ll talk a little about how each department, work unit and individual at UTMB can help support our goals.

As each of us begins to reflect upon how our work supports the Health System and UTMB’s Road Ahead, I want to encourage you all to remember something important: we can’t do everything, have it all or achieve it all without the ability to also know how to take care of ourselves, stay focused on what’s essential, and know when to say “no” to the opportunities that don’t support our goals as effectively.

This doesn’t mean we want to achieve less; it means we want to do the most important things better. So as we set our goals within our departments and on an individual level, let’s remember to keep our eyes focused on The Road Ahead. We must determine what is essential to our success and pause to carefully consider when something new comes along, whether it adds value to our work or if it can wait until a more suitable time in the future.

Directors and managers should help their employees connect with the goals by identifying and communicating specific actions and behaviors that either support or detract from our success. When each employee associates the work they do with the success of their work unit, they can also see how each person on their team adds value to the Health System and UTMB as an organization.

There are a few simple methods we can use to help ensure we are focusing on the essentials:

  1. Take time on a consistent, regular basis to think about what is essential and what is non-essential on your to-do list. McKeown recommends the “rule of three”: Every three months, take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three. We need time to think and process what we’re working on in order to see the bigger picture.
  2. Rest well to excel. There is a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers—this is not only the number of hours spent practicing, but research also shows that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. Self-care is important!
  3. When you hold a new event or complete a new project, keep in mind that although some activities should be continued, not every new activity has to become a tradition.
  4. It’s okay to say “no”—just because we are invited to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good enough reason to do it. Although it may seem counterintuitive to say “no” to good opportunities, if we say “yes” to everything, then we won’t have the space to figure out how we really should be investing our time.

Should we really continue taking on more, more, more, or should we try to get more out of what really matters?

This year, we would like Health System employees to focus on the following:

  • For inpatient settings or ancillary department goals for all employees will center on:
    • patient satisfaction
    • a quality goal or a financial goal
    • employee satisfaction and retention
  • For ambulatory clinic settings, goals for all employees will center on:
    • patient satisfaction
    • overall patient access
    • employee satisfaction and retention

Any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success. By focusing on the few things that are really essential, we’re able to make a more valuable contribution.

UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Thank you for everything you do to support UTMB’s vision of Working Together to Work Wonders.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

An Act of Kindness Allows a Man to See Daughter Graduate

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI hope you all are familiar with the Health System’s Friday Focus Newsletter. The Health System publishes the newsletter for our employees each month to share exciting accomplishments and important news within and across the Health System. UTMB employees are always invited to suggest topics for the newsletter or to submit their own stories.

Last month, Dennis Santa Ana, patient care facilitator of Unit J9A CT Surgery/Vascular Surgery, also known as UTMB’s Dedicated Cardiac Care Unit, sent in a story about how his team came together to help a patient enjoy a special moment with his daughter. Upon reading the story, I thought it was so touching that I decided to save it for this Friday’s message!

The Dedicated Cardiac Care Unit is unique in that it is much more than a regular hospital patient unit. It is equipped with specialized monitoring devices like those found in an ICU, such as electrocardiogram (EKG) and atrial electrocardiogram (AEG). It is designed for patients who require specialized cardiac care, such as individuals who have recently undergone a heart transplant or have had a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) implanted.

The comprehensive care the unit team fosters close relationships with patients. Dennis Santa Ana says, “Patients feel like we’re family and they know they can call any of us individually any time to get help. We’re here for them. We become more than health care providers; we are counselors and friends. We become their support system.”

That’s what Santa Ana’s story is all about…

An Act of Kindness Allows a Man to See Daughter Graduate
by Dennis Santa Ana

Recently, UTMB’s Dedicated Cardiac Unit (J9A) admitted a patient with advanced congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of the body’s other organs.

After a right-side heart catheterization, the primary care team determined the patient needed to be started on intravenous cardiac inotropic drugs, which would help improve his heart function by helping his heart beat more strongly. The team hoped this combination of therapies would allow him to be discharged home once he achieved hemodynamic stability (normal blood pressure or adequate cardiac output).

Despite these interventions, the cardiac drips only minimally improved his heart function, and after the results of additional diagnostic tests were received, the primary team concluded that a heart transplant would be his only hope for survival. The patient’s medical condition had deteriorated to the point that it would not be safe for him to wait at home for the heart transplant, and he would need to remain as an inpatient during the waiting period. From this point on, his life had changed—his prognosis was uncertain.

One day while receiving treatment, the patient told his nurses his greatest wish was to see his daughter graduate from college that month, but he feared this may only be wishful thinking, because he understood he was in no condition to leave the hospital for the ceremony.

His nurse shared his wish with the other members of the nursing staff during one of their informal discussions. The team began brainstorming for different ideas to help the patient and decided they could use the internet to Skype or FaceTime during the graduation ceremony. Several of the nurses coordinated with the family regarding the plan, and one of the nurses obtained the university’s website where the graduation would be streamed live.

On the day of the graduation, the nursing staff set up their conference room so they could stream the ceremony onto the large projector screen. One of the nurses even served popcorn for the occasion. The patient was able to watch the entire graduation ceremony, and thoroughly enjoyed it—he was happy and proud to see his daughter receive her college diploma. The patient was very grateful to the nursing staff in J9A for giving him this rare opportunity to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Excellent patient care is treating the whole person, mind, body and spirit. It’s more than providing the best medical care possible for our patients. It is also about providing that care in an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. I’d like to thank Dennis Santa Ana for taking the time to share his team’s story and to give special thanks to the nurses of J9A for exemplifying excellence, compassion, teamwork, advocacy, critical thinking and patient- and family-focus!

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” —Barbara de Angelis

 

Working Together Is Success

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn my recent post, “Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”, we explored how UTMB’s vision for the future forms the basis for our goals moving forward, both in the present year and in the years to come. We also affirmed that the key to our success is working together to be the best academic health center. This week, I’d like to talk about why working together as a team, cooperating and forging relationships, is so important to our future.

There is a line in a poem by John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Many of the great things worth doing probably can’t be achieved in isolation, and working together often allows an organization to achieve something that an individual working alone cannot. At UTMB, we want to become the preferred, integrated health care provider in the region for our patients, partners and referring physicians. Simply put, we want to be the best. Therefore, our goals and strategies must also be integrated in as many ways as possible. Through teamwork, we can achieve higher quality outcomes that are more efficient, thoughtful and effective. By doing so, each individual and team at UTMB can garner great support and achieve a great sense of accomplishment.

Success in the modern health care environment is complex and continually presents new challenges. At UTMB, we’ve been progressive in our work and our goals must be ambitious in order to remain competitive and truly become the best. We have a lot on our plates as we take major strides to improve patient satisfaction, patient and family engagement, and the quality of care, all the while lowering costs and improving efficiency. Our resources are limited, and this means we must find ways to team up and streamline our work. As a health care provider, or even as a business, we are not alone in this—today companies, on average, set six times as many performance requirements as they did more than 50 years ago.

However, challenges also present great opportunities for success. The key lies in how we will respond to the challenges. As we strive to develop more efficient processes and new models of care, improve access to our system, and enhance communication with our patients and families (all of which are multifaceted initiatives), we must create an environment in which our providers and staff can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. We must be innovative and adaptive. Our solutions don’t have to be sophisticated or perfect, but they have to create greater value. The solutions must be developed by and integrated among teams who work together and depend on one another.

When people cooperate, they use fewer resources; conversely, when we don’t cooperate we need more time, equipment, systems, teams and resources. Staff must compensate for a lack of cooperation, and often, even safety risks can result. Teamwork involves removing barriers that make us self-sufficient. Sharing resources is a good way to make people more dependent on, and more cooperative with, one another. Without such buffers, our actions have a greater impact on one another’s effectiveness. By creating overlaps, streamlining activities, partnering with our partners and affiliates increases the mutual value of our work.

But teamwork is more complicated than cooperation alone. While cooperation is usually for the sake of a common goal that the entire team is working toward—some measurable outcome, a willingness to cooperate stems from relationships that develop between coworkers and leaders. What are the connections, the interactions, and the synapses? Teamwork cannot exist without relationships, even if the extent of the relationship is minimal. Teamwork does not occur if each person does their own thing separately from their work relationships.

To respond to complexity intelligently, people have to really understand each other’s work: understand how each person on the team contributes to the overall process of accomplishing a goal, the goals and challenges others have to meet, the resources they can draw on, and the constraints under which they operate. People can’t find this kind of information in formal job descriptions; they can learn it only by observing and interacting. Without this shared understanding, people might blame problems on other people, and not where it actually should be, like broken or inefficient processes, for example.

In many cases, understanding what people do by shadowing them will provide insights into where and how cooperation is breaking down. Identify individuals in your work area who are already interacting with multiple stakeholders (patients as well as internal partners). These people can act as integrators, helping the teams obtain from others the cooperation needed to deliver more value.

Finally, bring the best out of one another. Know and recognize the strengths of others in your teams and encourage one another to leverage those strengths. Everyone is empowered to use their judgment and intelligence, and feedback is important so we can all understanding where we are performing well and where improvement is needed. Stay tuned into how your team is performing. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see something that feels unsafe, if you feel concerned, uncomfortable, or think the team should stop and reevaluate a situation. Reward those who cooperate, and don’t fail to ask for help when you need it!

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” —Henry Ford

This entry was based on “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated” by Yves Morieux

Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the belief that we can.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWe are now a couple weeks into the New Year, and I am still in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions. I am going to make a guess we all have at least two things in common: we have made a New Year’s resolution at some point; and we have broken a New Year’s resolution at some point. I know in my past, I’ve let my focus drift off those resolutions, but I also have to remind myself that just as long as it takes to break an old habit, it usually takes time to create a new habit, especially when we are pursuing a big goal. It can be easy to get discouraged when we waiver, yet you can’t rush a good thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

The path to success is full of obstacles. We will undoubtedly stumble as we pursue our goals. In the process, we learn how to confront future challenges. This all has a lot to do with our perspective, doesn’t it? That’s why I thought I would share the message of recorded lecture I recently came across, called “The Secret to Happy Work”, presented by Shawn Achor, an American educator, author and speaker.

Shawn begins by telling a story about a time when he was seven, playing with his younger sister, Amy, on top of their bunk bed. Shawn, in the role as oldest sibling, naturally assumed this meant she had to do everything that he wanted to do—and he wanted to play war. As they played on top of their bunk beds, he lined up all of his G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. On the other side, were all of his sister’s My Little Ponies, ready for a cavalry charge.

Then, somehow during the game, “Without any help or push from her older brother at all,” he claims, “Amy suddenly disappeared off of the top of the bunk bed and landed with a crash on the floor.” As Shawn nervously peered over the side of the bed to see what had befallen his fallen sister, he saw that she had landed painfully on her hands and knees on all fours on the ground.

Now even more acutely aware of his role as the older sibling, Shawn knew he was in trouble. His parents had asked that he make sure they played safely and as quietly as possible. As he looked down at his sister’s face, he saw a wail of pain, suffering and surprise threatening to erupt from her mouth and threatening to wake his sleeping parents. So he did the only thing he could think to do in his frantic state to avert this tragedy: “Amy, Amy, wait. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy, I think this means you’re a unicorn.”

Of course, being a unicorn was an option that was open to her brain at no point in the past. He could see how this had taken her aback, as she nearly forgot her pain while contemplating her new-found identity as a unicorn. Instead of crying, instead of ceasing their play, instead of waking their parents and all the negative consequences that would have ensued for Shawn, a smile spread across her face and she scrambled right back up onto the bunk bed with all the grace of a baby unicorn…with one broken leg.

Shawn identified this as the moment he stumbled upon a concept that some 20 years later would be at the forefront of a scientific study: positive psychology. Today, Shawn has devoted his life to research in the field, and in particular how we can be happier by realizing it’s not necessarily reality that shapes us, but the lens through which our brain views that reality. He says, if you change your lens, you can not only change your happiness, but the outcomes.

To that end, he explains that our society’s most commonly held formulas for success are broken. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. We think, “If I can just find that great job, or win that next promotion, lose those ten pounds, or (fill in the blank), then happiness will follow.”

But Shawn’s extensive research and other recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work.

He believes the three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection, and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat).  If we want to raise happiness, we need to make both mindset and behavior shifts.

This discovery has been supported by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world. Shawn now spends his time teaching, advising and lecturing at top organizations on how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work and create more success, happiness and reward in our lives. What are the five key steps that we can take each day to increase our experience of happiness?

  1. Bring gratitude to mind – Write down three NEW things that you are grateful for each day
  2. Journal – About a positive experience you’ve had recently for 2 minutes once a day
  3. Exercise – Engage in a minimum 15 minutes of mindful cardio activity
  4. Meditate – Watch your breath go in and out for 2 minutes a day
  5. Engage in a random, conscious act of kindness – Write a 2-minute positive email or note thanking a friend or colleague

Do these steps for 21 days, and experts believe you can reprogram your mindset toward being more positive. And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, Shawn believes we can create ripples of positivity. In the end, happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change.  It is the belief that we can.

“Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day…is too dear with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Watch Shawn Achor’s full presentation at TEDxBloomington:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en

Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs we begin 2015, I want to take a moment to wish everyone a healthy, happy and fulfilling New Year. I always enjoy celebrating the New Year, and I embrace the idea of New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s an opportunity to set personal goals that will hopefully make my new year better than the last. Even though I know I can set new goals for myself or create a clean slate at any time, the New Year seems like an ideal time to do so. It’s a time when we can all begin again on our journey to be the best we can be!

A little more than four years ago at UTMB, we were in the midst of rebuilding our campus. In spite of the challenges we faced as we recovered from Hurricane Ike, we knew we could turn our situation into a great opportunity to become something even better than we were before. With this progress, it was time for a new brand identity, one that reflected our spirit of revitalization, forward-thinking and collaboration. We also set an inspiring goal for our future—our organizational vision. As leadership guru Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Our new vision was the “big picture” concept of what we wanted to become: “We work together to work wonders as we define the future of health care and strive to be the best in all of our endeavors.” Our vision was not about being the biggest academic health center or being the best-known academic health center—it was about being the best, and this would not be achieved by one individual or one department alone, nor could this vision come to pass simply because we willed it; it meant we would work together to achieve it.

We then set long-term goals, a strategic plan, that would help us achieve our vision. This is UTMB’s Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future, forming the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area. We are all guided down our path by our core values: compassion, respect, integrity, diversity and lifelong learning. These ideals represent what we want the heart and soul of this organization to be.

From the Road Ahead, the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support derive their “resolutions” each new fiscal year. These are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals that will, in turn, help UTMB achieve its vision for the future. These plans are then passed along to departments and work units, where those teams hone in on ways they can help UTMB be successful.

However, the truth of the matter is that any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success, ensure UTMB will have an outstanding reputation, or assure that we will always provide the very best service. That’s why the real key to UTMB’s success is our people—you are our greatest asset.

Without the individuals and teams who make up this organization, each of whom represents UTMB and helps create our reputation, we could not be successful. Each of you brings value to UTMB and each of you possesses special gifts that, collectively, enable us to care for our patients and their families in extraordinary ways. Therefore, now is a perfect time to celebrate the role each of you has in UTMB’s success!

At a high level, it may not always seem clear how every single individual can directly impact a specific goal that has been identified by the Health System, but there are ways we each can contribute. In fact, making an impact on a day-to-day basis might be easier than one might think! If we simply consider that our business in the Health System is to deliver optimal health care and the very best service, and that our top priority is the patient’s experience and their family’s experience, if we realize that the work we do supports the areas that can directly impact a certain goal, then it might be easier to see how each of us truly adds value to UTMB Health.

Here’s another example. If I were to ask any person how they brought value to their particular organization, their most immediate answer might be that they go to work each day and complete their job responsibilities. While this could be considered an accurate response, adding value means something more—adding value is what makes the organization a great place for customers (in our case, patients) and makes it a great place to work for others. That value may even give the organization an edge in quality over all the other organizations of its kind. After all, quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. (Will Foster)

Along with bringing your amazing skills and outstanding talents to UTMB each day, there are some additional ways we can all make UTMB a very special organization for our patients, their families, and our colleagues. Let’s set a few New Year’s resolutions for 2015 as we think about what the Road Ahead means for each of us at UTMB.

First and foremost, let’s commit to excellence in everything we do. Embrace innovation and lifelong learning, which help us to reach our fullest potential, both personally and in our careers: “Whatever your discipline, become a student of excellence in all things. Take every opportunity to observe people who manifest the qualities of mastery. These models of excellence will inspire you and guide you toward the fulfillment of your highest potential.” (Michael Gelb).

Always put our patients and families first and support patient- and family-focused care. This can include everything from improving patient care processes, making patient (and employee) safety the highest priority, always practicing proper hand hygiene and encouraging others to do the same, escalating and reporting issues of concern, focusing on patient education, and improving patient access to our services by supporting “Just Say Yes” initiatives. Prepare for a successful Joint Commission Accreditation Survey. Help build and support UTMB’s relationships with external partners and referring physicians – this rapport is all part of helping our patients stay healthy and helping them to heal when ill.

Support a positive workplace. Remember to respect, trust and value each other as colleagues. We can all help create a Culture of Trust and respect by positively highlighting when an individual, group or department has displayed their values through their words and actions. People find the greatest satisfaction in their roles when they know that they have provided good service and have truly made a difference.

Encourage others to express their ideas in constructive ways; value the thoughts and opinions of others, even though we may think or feel differently. Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let your team members know you used their idea, or better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement or help implement it. When people know their input is valued and expected, their level of responsibility and commitment will naturally increase. The greatest accomplishments are achieved through teamwork, and people will support what they help to create.

Warmly welcome new members to your team and to the organization. When a new employee joins us, we not only want to help them understand what is expected of them in terms of the job, but also what it means to be part of UTMB Health. Help them understand our mission, vision and values. What are the goals for your area? Help them build relationships within the team and with other teams and departments.

UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Though UTMB is now in the fifth month of its fiscal year, in the spirit of celebration of a new calendar year, it’s a great time to reaffirm all that we hope to achieve by the year’s end and in the years to come. Best wishes in the New Year, and here’s to Working Together to Work Wonders in 2015! 

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” — Abraham Lincoln

 

Coloring Our Own View

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Wednesday, I attended the Good Samaritan Foundation’s Nursing Excellence Awards in Houston, an event which honors the profession’s “best and brightest.” Many UTMB nurses were honored this year with bronze medal recognitions, while high honors went to Jamie Heffernan, nurse manager of the Blocker Burn Unit, and Charles Machner, nurse manager of the Medical Intensive Care Unit, who brought home the gold and silver medals in the nursing administration category, respectively. Linda Rounds, the Betty Lee Evans Professor of Nursing at the UTMB School of Nursing, received the gold medal for faculty.

It was truly exciting to see our nurses recognized by the greater community and by their peers for the outstanding leadership they demonstrate and the invaluable work they do for our students, patients and families!

On the return drive to Galveston, I decided to make a quick stop at a drive-through to grab a soft drink. The employee who greeted me at the window was in such a great mood. He asked me how my day was, and I asked him the same. “You seem like you’re in a really good mood today!” I remarked. And his reply stayed with me—it was one of those encounters that seemed to provide just the message I needed at the time: “Why not just be positive?”

How true! This young man did his job with a great attitude, and that alone had a positive impact on my day. There is a quote, “There is very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative” (W. Clement Stone). This young man not only took pride in his work, but he understood that how he treated others made a difference. Perhaps more importantly, he recognized that having a positive attitude was a choice.

I wondered how this might apply to our everyday interactions at UTMB. If everyone at UTMB always made an effort to be kind, encouraging and courteous, and show appreciation and respect to one another, our patients and their families—in all interactions—what kind of impact would that have? What difference might we make at UTMB if we collectively thought positively about the changes and tasks we must complete each day? Within our organization and across health care in general, there are many changes and new initiatives underway, and without a doubt it can sometimes feel overwhelming or challenging, but why not think and act with a positive attitude? If we have to do something, why not do our very best?

When we see an opportunity, we should try to remember that it will likely be accompanied by some sort of difficulty in the process; at the same time, we should also remember that in every difficulty lies an opportunity. If we keep this in mind, what kind of difference would that make? There’s almost nothing we start that doesn’t hit a roadblock or obstacle. But, if we persist and persevere, and find a way around the obstacles and flexibly redesign, often we can create great success, even if it’s not always the success first imagined. And, even if the very best things are not immediately possible, what if we immediately made the best of things that are possible?

Although there are times when we have little control over the events in life, we can control our reaction to those events. Situations may color our view of life, but only we have been given the power to choose what the color will be. For things that are within our control, the attitude we have can determine our personal and professional successes. Isn’t it true that people who believe they can’t do something are usually right—and so are those who believe they can? Football coaching great Lou Holtz speaks frequently concerning the correlation between ability and attitude. He believes, “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Attitude alone may not be all that success requires, but we’ll certainly do better with a positive attitude!

Welcome to the Family!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. Time seems to be flying, as I realize that it has already been one year since the last of my children, Blake, was married, and I gained a daughter-in-law. Three years prior to that, my son Brad had married. Now, both of my sons—a set of twins who have always seemed rather competitive—and their wives are expecting children, and I’m looking forward to celebrating the birth of my new granddaughter and grandson in the fall. It’s so exciting to see our family growing, and it fascinates me to think about the next generation of Sollenbergers.

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future,” once said American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Alex Haley.

On August 16, when UTMB’s own family grew with the addition of the new UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus (formerly Angleton Danbury Medical Center), I thought of the appropriateness of that quote! Our new partnership truly is a bridge to our future, as we prepare for a successful future in an era of health care reform. And, both organizations share mutual commitments to health care excellence and rich histories of service to their communities, something that will continue and will grow through our affiliation.

I look forward to seeing the many ways we will be able to extend services in the Greater Angleton area as we establish a vast array of primary, specialty and chronic care services, based on community need. We will be able to offer new and important health care services to the region, including additional resources for more complex medical care. We will be able to improve access to exceptional services as close to patients’ homes as possible. Finally, this partnership is also important to our future of Texas, because we will be able to offer UTMB students and trainees the unique benefit of experiencing the Angleton Danbury Campus’s community-based care model firsthand. As a statewide leader in training the future’s physicians, nurses and allied health professionals, UTMB views this new relationship as vital to our mission.

I had the chance earlier in the week to visit with the employees at the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus. I was struck by how similar we all are in our service and commitment to patients. Each person with whom I met was positive and engaged. While the work that they do has not changed, they are now part of our UTMB Health family. It was a very uplifting day!

I congratulate everyone involved in making this transition a success, and look forward to a bright future for all of those associated with UTMB Health at all of its campuses, and the communities and patients we serve. As with my own family, I eagerly look forward to the future and have high expectations for the future of UTMB Health. Together we will move forward into the future – growing, building and bringing the best health care to the Greater Angleton area, the hospital district and surrounding communities. To our colleagues at the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus, welcome to the UTMB family!

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Taking Good Care of Yourself

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn last week’s Friday Flash Report message, we explored the value of compassion through the story of this year’s Licensed Nurse Silent Angel, John Patrick, RN. After posting the message, I received a nice comment from one of our nurses, who also brought up a very good point: whether as a care provider or an employee, we all offer many different types of support to others—patients, families and coworkers alike; therefore, it is important to remember to make time and find ways to replenish and care for ourselves.

From a personal perspective, I know this isn’t always easy to do, especially when one has a great deal of dedication to those for whom they care and for the work they do. I don’t mind working hard, because I love what I do—I help create safe and effective systems for patients to receive the best care possible, and I’m very passionate about it. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I do have to carve out time in my schedule for myself to ensure I can continue putting my very best into the work I feel is so important.

This reminded me of a talk I have given in the past to different groups of caregivers and leaders. To illustrate the concept of giving to others and the importance of self-care, I used an old syrup bottle, which I cleaned and filled with rice. I would then begin by talking about the many important priorities and obligations we have in our lives, and how in the process of putting so much of oneself into fulfilling these tasks and into caring for others, little things begin to drop off our radar when it comes to our own well-being. These little things can add up to have a significant impact:

We spend our workday accomplishing many different tasks. Some days are challenging. Some days we are so busy keeping the spinning plates in the air, we barely notice the hours have passed!

Some rice is poured from the bottle.

Before or after work, many of us may have children or dependents to drive to activities and appointments. After a full day’s work, we must still manage a household or have errands to run and chores to do. Our time feels short. Exercise is forgotten. Healthy eating is off the menu.

More rice is poured from the bottle.

At times, a great deal of the support we provide to others is emotional in nature. This is when we begin to feel especially tired. We’re a teacher, helper, advisor, and caregiver all wrapped up in one package. Soon, we find we have placed everything we feel we must do before our own health.

Soon, there is no more rice to pour—the syrup bottle is empty.

As busy caregivers and employees, we may find ourselves saying, “Don’t worry about me. I know it seems like I’m always doing things, but I really do take good care of myself.” Finding the time to exercise, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep are things we can do for ourselves physically, but what about our emotional needs? Do we find time to connect with ourselves and the things we enjoy doing?

No one can go on endlessly doing for others without also recharging their own batteries. There are some simple things we can do each day to help reenergize our inner selves:

  • First and foremost, set aside some time weekly to relax and just “be”—instead of burning out before replenishing.
  • Do something you enjoy! I love to read and listen to all kinds of music, and I love to cook (even though I don’t always cook things that I should). It isn’t always easy to make time, but it’s important to me to remember to set some time aside for what I enjoy and to spend quality time with my family.
  • Do something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re not sure how, take a class or look for a local group dedicated to the activity.
  • Take a nature break. Walking in – or even just looking at – nature calms our nerves and relieves mental fatigue.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments and mini-successes and celebrate with small rewards instead of rushing to the next best thing.
  • Slow down. It’s okay to commit to less instead of doing, moving and achieving, simply for the sake of it.
  • Give yourself permission to accept help from others. It isn’t always easy to do, but consider what accepting help provides others. How does it feel when you help a colleague solve a problem they are struggling with? Or to drive an appreciative friend to pick up her car? Or to share the name of the best plumber in town? It’s satisfying, isn’t it? From a work standpoint, giving those who work with us the opportunity to help also provides them a new opportunity to grow and develop in their own careers.
  • Stop replaying stories about the past and worries for the future. Realize that it’s okay to not have all the answers right away—don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing.
  • Start the day a little earlier. You can use this time for something you enjoy like writing, reading or exercise. My days always seem to go more smoothly when I feel I have given myself plenty of time in the morning.
  • Talk to someone. If you have a close friend or family member, talk to them about your feelings or difficult decisions. Everyone needs support!*
  • Get plenty of sleep and exercise!

When is the last time you acknowledged the feelings that are asking for your attention? How do you take care of yourself from the inside out so that you can fully experience life?

When we learn to be gentle with ourselves, this is truly taking care; and when we give ourselves time to recharge our batteries, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show compassion and empathy to them, also. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, coworkers and the world in general.

* If you’d rather talk to someone in confidentiality, UTMB’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides professional, confidential counseling and assistance to employees and their eligible dependents and retirees. EAP is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You will not be remembered for who you are; you will be remembered for what you did.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn recent Friday Flash Report messages, I have explored a UTMB value and offered my personal thoughts on ways we can demonstrate it in our daily interactions, both in the Health System and throughout the organization. We’ve explored integrity, respect and discussed facets of leadership and building a Culture of Trust, of which our values are all a part. This week, I wanted to offer my thoughts on compassion.

Compassion is similar to empathy, in that it is a feeling of concern for others and even sharing their feelings. Yet, compassion is a little more than just feeling empathetic toward someone. It is described as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. In a sense, it is seeing others as human beings, just as ourselves, and treating them with the same kindness, care and concern as we would wish to be treated.

Initially, I wanted to incorporate an experience from my own life as I shared my thoughts on compassion, and perhaps in a future Friday Flash Report message I shall; but while writing this, my mind instead kept returning to the stories I had heard during this year’s Silent Angel Awards, which are given during Nurses Week to honor a licensed nurse, non-nurse, and a unit or group whose compassion, caring and advocacy made a difference in the life of a patient, family and/or friend. I thought when exploring the meaning of compassion, few stories could top that of this year’s Licensed Nurse Silent Angel.

If you ever doubt that the care you deliver and the interactions you have with our patients and families makes a difference, I hope you will think of this story and realize that, through demonstrating compassion for all, you do have a true and profound impact on patient- and family-centered care at UTMB Health:

My sister was recently diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer. She ended up requiring bilateral mastectomies. Prior to her surgery, her mood had changed due to her diagnosis, and emotionally, she was not dealing with it very well.

At the appointments prior to her surgeries, she demanded no male doctors conduct her breast exams. After her 12-hour surgery, she was admitted to the 8C post-op unit. After she was assisted to her bed, her nurse for the night entered the room. It was John Patrick, RN. He was not only a male, but a male with long hair in a ponytail. I knew my sister would be upset, because this disease had caused her to be disfigured and a male was now here to take care of her.

When John came into the room, my sister’s head immediately popped up and her eyes opened wide. Before she could say a word, John started talking. He informed her he would be her nurse and that she need not be afraid, because her care was in his hands. My sister was immediately drawn to the support he gave to her. She was crying, and he told her once more not to be afraid, because she was a warrior. He was a male who my sister let take care of her because of his sincere compassion.

During the night, he was there for her, encouraging her with kind words of support. I was so very, very proud to have this nurse working at our hospital. He is not only a true angel sent to be with my sister, he was also sent to be my angel as well.

On a second occasion, my sister had to be readmitted due to a complication of her surgery, and was admitted to 8C again. At this time, she was in great emotional distress from all that was happening to her, and because she had to have surgery once again. She was angry and had been crying very hard; she was also frustrated with the interactions she’d had that evening. At that time, John came into the room and immediately took over. He once again started helping my sister get herself emotionally together by telling her she was a warrior and helping her prepare for the following day’s surgery.

This is the most outstanding nurse I have ever met in my whole nursing career. He is the Silent Angel, because UTMB did not know we had an angel working for us. He has touched my heart and my sister’s heart. Today, when my sister starts to feel down, I tell her to remember John’s words: “You are a warrior!” I will never forget how this nurse helped change my sister’s life as well as my life. He had no idea of the impact his nursing had on our lives, and I want to thank him with all my heart!

My mother used to tell me, “You will not be remembered for who you are; you will be remembered for what you did.” I don’t think that I really understood the importance of her admonition until I was older, but it was sage advice from a woman who lived her life showing compassion for others.

John’s story is but one of many stories at UTMB which demonstrate living the value of compassion. What stories can you share that demonstrate how someone at UTMB has lived the value of compassion? I would love to hear them!