Unless we think together, we will fail to get the best out of one another!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere once was an executive named Joe, who worked for a medical device company. Joe was very worried about the device that he was working on. He thought that it was too complicated, and he thought that its complexity created margins of error that could really hurt patients.

He wanted to find a way to help, but when he looked around his organization, nobody else seemed to be at all worried. So, he didn’t really want to say anything. After all, maybe they knew something he didn’t. Maybe he’d look stupid. But he kept worrying about it, and he worried about it so much that he got to the point where he thought the only thing he could do was leave a job he loved.

In the end, however, Joe did find a way to raise his concerns. And what happened then is what almost always happens in this situation—it turned out everybody had exactly the same questions and doubts! So now Joe had allies, and everyone on his team was thinking about how to solve the problem together. And yes, there was debate and argument, but that allowed everyone around the table to be creative, to solve the problem, and to change the device.

By speaking up, Joe wasn’t undermining anyone’s work. In fact, he was improving the overall quality of the team’s work and protecting others from harm. Joe had always been passionately devoted to his organization and the higher purposes that the organization served, but he had always feared the conflict that would result from speaking up. When he did finally speak up, he discovered that he had not only contributed much more to the team than he had ever imagined, but his colleagues did not think negatively of him—they thought of him as a leader.

The story above was borrowed from a presentation by Margaret Heffernan, a writer and keynote speaker who frequently presents on how conflict avoidance and selective blindness can lead organizations astray. Fear of conflict is the very thing that leads to communication breakdowns and broken processes, which in turn, result in preventable errors.

We know from the premise of our Culture of Trust that significant safety failures are almost never caused by isolated errors committed by individuals. Rather, they result from multiple, smaller errors in environments with serious underlying system flaws. This is why regular feedback and communication is important.

A couple weeks ago, I shared a story about my own experiences with constructive feedback, and how at times, I have also found it uncomfortable to give and to receive. However, I realize the importance of constructive conversations, and even though they may involve a difference of opinion, they are a very necessary part of conducting safe, effective and successful work for several good reasons:

  1. We don’t always have an internal cue that lets us know that we’re wrong about something until it’s too late.
  2. Without a shared understanding of people’s points of view when it comes to concerns, people might blame problems on other people, and not where it actually should be, like broken or inefficient processes.
  3. Continual two-way feedback allows people to focus on one or two areas for improvement, rather than having to address a much larger problem that has already caused harm or will require significant intervention and time to resolve.

If we truly care about providing the safest care for our patients, we will be committed to speaking up. Continual quality and safety improvement is the right thing to do. As we observed in Joe’s case, speaking up helped the team and the individual to achieve success. That is why we have to be willing to listen to and consider what others are saying to us. Individually, we must keep an open mind and be willing to work through problems strategically. As a team, we know this is important because it will ultimately help us succeed. Unless we think together, we will fail to get the best out of one another!

Whether we have a gut feeling about the condition or functionality of a device, or we feel concerned that a care process may be unsafe, we need to act with safety in mind and speak up. In health care, we are accountable for our own actions and for those of our team. As we go about our important work, let’s be conscious of any system design that may potentially cause harm if we do not identify the flaws and fix them before a patient is affected. Instead of being afraid of conflict, we have to address the issues head-on.

My job is to make sure that you have what you need to be able to take care of our patients. If you don’t, my hope is that you will make your manager aware, and if you are the manager and you cannot get what you need to ensure your team can provide the right care at the right time in the right way for your patients, you will continue to escalate the matter, without fear of consequence, until you get a resolution. This does not mean that the decision will always be exactly what you want or asked for, but you should receive an answer and a resolution that leaves you with a sense of closure.

Remember: “You can blame people who knock things over in the dark or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI admit it! I love college basketball. Not just any college team, however. I am an avid Kansas University basketball fan (the “why” is a story for another time). We are now about three weeks away from the beginning of March Madness, and other than work, it is hard for me to focus on anything other than watching the games in the evening and on weekends.

My love of the sport began in high school. My senior year, our high school team came in third in the state tournament. I remember walking into the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois and being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the field house. Today, that experience reminds me of the movie, “Hoosiers”, when Gene Hackman’s team gets to the state tournament. As the team walks into the field house for the first time, Hackman’s character is aware that the team feels overwhelmed by the size of the venue. He asks the players to begin measuring the court. Little by little, they become aware that nothing about the size of the court has changed. What has changed is simply the size of the field house where they are playing.

In many respects, playing in a national or state tournament is a lot like working in health care. The magnitude of what we have to do seems greater than ever before, but the fundamentals of what we do, much like the basketball court, has not changed. Our job is to take the very best care of patients and families that we can. In our tournament, we strive to BE THE BEST!

When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, the basketball players had to run the hills on the outskirts of the city. Day after day, up and down the hills the players ran. It was not exciting; in fact, it was probably very boring, but year after year, the Wisconsin Badger’s conditioning pays off. Through hard training and practice, under the leadership of Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has become a regular contender in the Road to the Final Four. Last year, they made it to the Final Four.

When I was at the University of Kansas, Coach Ted Owens made his players shoot free throw after free throw, and often it was their predictable free throw shooting that made the difference in their wins. Again, this repetition and daily practice wasn’t glamorous, nor as entertaining as racing down the court, crossover dribbling behind one’s back and dunking the ball, but it was the difference that made the win for the Kansas Jayhawks.

In health care, we condition ourselves through practice—doing the same thing, the same way, every time. That consistency is a must in health care. It is when we deviate from the plan, when we decide that we can do something better than the way we were trained, that we end up not doing well. As we practice doing something over and over, we get better at it, and therefore provide safer care to our patients. Whether it is calling time outs, or reviewing and signing patient histories and physicals, whether it’s gelling our hands before and after entering a patient room, or developing our budgets, training and consistency pays off for our patients and provides the underpinning to BE THE BEST.

As you think about your work this week, what do you need to practice or have your team practice to assure our progress toward the goal – TO BE THE BEST?

“I stick with the fundamentals. The basics.”

—Bo Ryan


Be your own Valentine!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis weekend, it’s Valentine’s Day, and that means the aisle at the grocery store that was once fully stocked with chocolates, candy, roses and stuffed animals will soon be empty—at least until the next holiday’s shipment arrives!

Whether you’re treating yourself to a heart-shaped box of chocolates or getting something special for a loved one, don’t forget that February is also American Heart Month. So this Valentine’s Day, here’s to taking care of our loved ones and ourselves! After all, there is no better way to honor your commitment to someone (and yourself!) than doing something that adds to a long, happy, and healthy life.

The following are some easy ways you can promote Heart Health for yourself and others:

  1. Celebrate American Heart Month. At least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable. Help raise awareness about heart disease prevention and learn how to lower heart disease risk!
  2. Give the gift of quality time. Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give to yourself and to others. Start a creative project or read a book. The weather forecast for this weekend is sunny and warm! It will be a great opportunity for outdoor activities, like riding a bike or taking a walk (walking for as little as 30 minutes a day provides heart-health benefits). Whatever you choose to do, have a great time doing it, and you just might burn a few extra calories!
  3. Don’t let Valentine’s Day plans stress you out. Learn ways to cope with stress and engage in healthy activities, including getting plenty of sleep. Call a friend or spend some time with your pet. Breathe deeply—breathing exercises are a great way to begin and end your day. In fact, abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day helps increase the supply of oxygen to your brain, slows your heart rate, helps your muscles relax, and quiets your mind.
  4. Set a “table for two” at home. Most restaurants will be crowded, expensive, and unhealthy. Cooking at home is an excellent way to control the quality and amounts of what you eat. Take a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique. Treat yourself and loved ones to healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat and salt.
  5. If you smoke, quit smoking. One of the best things you can do for your heart is to give up smoking or help a loved one quit. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for 1 of every 5 deaths.
  6. Just move. Plan an activity that encourages physical fitness. Regular physical activity can help control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers, improve mental health and mood, and increase your chance of living longer. Adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity each week.
  7. Prevent the spread of germs by washing your hands often, getting a flu vaccine, and avoiding close contact with someone that is sick.
  8. Learn the most common symptoms of a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately if these symptoms occur.

This weekend, let’s all give ourselves the Valentine gift of a healthy heart. Buy yourself a Valentine present or make yourself a card to display in your office or on the refrigerator that reminds you to be good to yourself!


For more heart health tips, download Heart Health Valentine’s Day Tips from the American Heart Association (AHA) here or visit the AHA website.

Healthy Holidays!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn just a couple of days, on December 21, the North Pole will be tilted its furthest distance from the Sun, and the Northern Hemisphere will experience the Winter Solstice. This will be the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it is also considered the first day of winter. In the past, people celebrated this time period with rest, reflection and thoughtful planning before daylight hours increased and a New Year began.

This time of year also coincides with many religious observances and cultural holidays. Although the traditions are many, there is a common thread among them—nearly all incorporate light for different symbolic reasons. Light helps things grow. It signifies knowledge, wisdom and innovation. It brings happiness and symbolizes warmth and goodness. It is a symbol of unity, collective work and purpose. It is sometimes even a guiding light for others.

It is a season celebrated with light, and its many symbolic meanings seem to also represent our common bond at UTMB—we work together to work wonders for our patients and their families. We embrace diversity, because it is what makes each of us unique—we all bring special gifts to this organization that collectively enable us to care for others in extraordinary ways. Through innovative thinking and the pursuit of lifelong learning, new discoveries are made each day to improve the health of people in our communities and around the globe. We demonstrate compassion and respect to everyone we meet, and we always work with integrity. Together, we will define the future of health care.

There is a special feeling this time of year, and as we celebrate the holidays and our many accomplishments, I would like to express my gratitude to each of you working on behalf of the UTMB Health System. Every individual at UTMB plays an important role in ensuring our patients and families receive the best care and service, and I hope you will take this time to reflect on the positive impact you have made for others and through the light you shine.

On behalf of the UTMB Health System, thank you for the work you do. May health and happiness greet you all throughout the holidays, and best wishes for a bright New Year!

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Lifelong Learning: An Ongoing Experience

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe diversity of outstanding work accomplished and innovative discoveries made at UTMB never ceases to amaze me. Our organization is composed of remarkable individuals, who excel in their career fields and personal ambitions, and each day, I read stories in the news and in messages I receive about your successes.

Whether it’s bringing groundbreaking research discoveries to the patient’s bedside, developing new devices and processes to improve the safety and quality of patient care, or simply leading others in the pursuit of knowledge, the list of achievements is remarkable. Even the ways in which the organization has demonstrated its ability to respond to changes and challenges is something special. Lifelong learning is a core value at UTMB for these very reasons—we promote excellence and innovation through lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning makes us successful, no matter what our definition of success may be. We grow as a person through learning, and when we master a subject through continuous learning, it brings great personal satisfaction. Lifelong learning enables us to be confident, competent and knowledgeable; it increases our ability to be productive and effective at what we do, and it makes us better leaders.

I recently read an article, Extreme Exposure, in TMC News last week, about two UTMB aerospace medicine residents—James Pattarini, MD, MPH and Natacha Chough, MD, MPH—who are braving the cold during a clinical rotation in Antarctica. Written by Alex Orlando, the piece was an excellent example of how lifelong learning, through new training and experiences, helps us flourish in our individual roles, benefits our colleagues and our organization, and helps pave the road ahead for the future.

The goal of the training program, which is managed by the Center for Polar Medical Operations (CPMO) at UTMB, is to train physicians to deliver specialized care to patients that live and work in aviation and space environments. CPMO was established to manage health services at the three Antarctica stations operated by the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program—McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station—as well as numerous seasonal field camps and two marine research vessels operated year round.

In the article, Pattarini describes his experience practicing medicine in the South Pole. It’s not a traditional care environment, so he must adapt by performing tasks he might not otherwise do: “An obvious, off-the-cuff thing is that for basic blood work, we’re doing it ourselves—there is no such thing as sending it to the lab and having them send it back. You’re going to draw the blood, take it into the back room, boot up the machine, load it in the cartridge, and then run it yourself and wait for the results to spit out. There’s no middleman.” In addition, nursing staff is limited—they are present, but often busy seeing their own patients.

I think it goes without saying that practicing medicine in the South Pole is an amazing opportunity, especially for our UTMB residents. They have a chance to study in a place on Earth where so few have traveled, and they will be able to directly apply their experiences to their work in the future. But it is also a valuable opportunity to experience firsthand the responsibilities of other roles on the care team and, in turn, gain a greater understanding of not only the whole process of patient care, but its nuances as well. In my experience, one of the greatest lessons I have learned, especially as I have taken on leadership roles, is to appreciate the work of everyone—each person’s contribution is needed to assure that we can provide great care to our patients.

In the article, Pattarini also explains that it’s often necessary to take innovative approaches to standard problems; flexibility is important. For example, his access to special equipment, like advance imaging devices, is limited, so he has to make do with the options he does have. He must also give very careful consideration to patient care decisions, because of the harsh climate and the impact such transitions in care may have on other members of the team, from both logistical and safety points of view. For example, it might become necessary to transfer someone to New Zealand for more acute care, he explains, “Our responsibility extends beyond the risk to the patient—it encompasses the risk to our emergency responders and aircrews in the event that an emergency evacuation is called for.”

Chough describes her experience: “All of us come from a pretty broad foundation, and when we train in this secondary specialty of aerospace medicine, we have to integrate our medical knowledge with a lot of components, such as working in extreme environments, interfacing with engineers and hardware, and the politics of space flight from funding to management—even the organization of the mission as a whole. It really challenges me to think about everything from a big picture standpoint while also having to care for the patient.”

Reading this story, I thought of a saying that is attributed to Confucius. It captures the transformation of experience into knowledge: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Although the South Pole is inarguably a unique care environment with very apparent challenges and limitations, in a contemporary health care environment, there are also unique situations in which the knowledge we have gathered must be applied in actual practice and to unanticipated situations—navigating those more challenging instances requires experience and innovative thinking!

It is through a passion for learning that we are able to thrive during times of challenge and change. Our body of knowledge in health care—and beyond—is always growing and developing, and through innovative thinking and the exploration of ideas, we not only gain new knowledge, but we are able to contribute to that greater body of knowledge.

Lifelong learning empowers us to be adaptable and flexible, to remain open to new approaches in our work and to the ideas of others, to recognize when processes aren’t working and then to develop creative solutions, and to effectively and efficiently utilize our resources. Most importantly, lifelong learning helps us set goals that are not based on where we are, but based on where we want to go.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates

Every Kindness We Do for Others

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemRecently, I received a moving story that illustrated the team spirit and value of compassion that are so prevalent at UTMB. The story was shared by Rachel Murphy, one of our nurses in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU), an area in the hospital that treats some of the most complicated patient cases.

In her message, Rachel described an evening in the SICU and the countless acts of compassion and teamwork that were demonstrated by individuals throughout John Sealy Hospital as they came to the aid of a family in need.

On this particular evening, a patient in the SICU was very ill and required numerous hands involved in her care. Her spouse remained at the bedside the entire time, but did not have any family members in the area to help watch their three children, who had been up for a full 24 hours at one point waiting on their mother’s improvement. The three children were too young to be left alone in the waiting area outside of the unit and needed a safe place to stay while at the hospital. This created a very unique situation, because normally children under the age of 14 are not allowed in the SICU due to visitation restrictions.

Seeing this family’s plight and the father’s distress, the staff of the SICU decided to turn the conference room into a makeshift waiting area where the children could stay. The conference room was near the patient’s room, so the father could check up on his children and feel reassured knowing they were close by, yet sheltered from the activity of the ICU.

Margaret Matthews, another SICU nurse, came in to help calm the children for several hours by sitting with them. Fortunately, the staff had crayons on the unit for coloring to occupy the children’s time; meanwhile, another staff member lent the family a computer tablet with Disney movies on it.

Chaplain Daryl Ervin came in during the night; he spent much of his time in prayer with the family. When the kids wanted orange soda and snacks, Vicki Romero, clinical operations administrator, donated money to get sodas from the vending machine, and Nurse Audriana Sais gave the kids the popcorn she had stashed away for her break. Dr. Casey Duncan, who was sitting outside the conference room attending to the patient, took time away from her duties as Chief Resident to help Margaret and Rachel take the kids to the restroom.

Mark Rosenfelder, from the cardiac care unit (9A), also heard about the family, and he helped find a cot and pillows that the kids could sleep on. When they realized that the conference room lights needed to be dimmed, but not turned off completely, David McDaniel, who works in the recovery room, and his nursing student devised a solution to lower the lights so the children could rest properly.

These acts of kindness are just a few examples of the teamwork that took place on the unit that night, Rachel remarked, and this was especially moving, because so many individuals made time to help out this family despite being very busy.

Special thanks to Ryan McKimmy, the patient’s primary nurse, and the following staff members, who helped pitch in and ensure this patient, her family, and all other patients on the unit were well cared for: Mark Rosenfelder (9A), Jodee Brown (MICU), Cynthia Rynearson, Stephanie Osizugbo, Gwen Franklin, Jenilyn Fowzer, Margaret Matthews, David McDaniel (PACU), Lacey Lebrun, Vicki Romero (COA, aka fearless leader), Carolyn Johnson, Ashley Bennett, and Audriana Sais.

“Everyone truly showed what UTMB is about: family,” Rachel concluded. “Without everyone’s hard work, I’m not sure that this very difficult situation for the family would have had such a silver lining of compassion and empathy. We were able to truly take care of all of the family’s needs, and help the patient’s husband focus on making vital decisions in his wife’s care. I am truly inspired and proud to work along side you all.”

To echo the sentiments of Christina Myers, nurse manager of the SICU and neurosciences critical care unit, the support multiple people showed in the care and support of this family is that for which we stand at UTMB—it’s why we come to work each day. This is why I, too, am proud to work for such a wonderful institution and with such wonderful teams.

Every kindness you do for others—no matter how small—enriches the world beyond measure, and together we can truly make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. Thank you to everyone at UTMB Health who goes above and beyond each and every day!

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe temperature has finally dropped, and the “other” season we experience in Texas has arrived—it’s no longer blazing hot! This change in weather also means that the holiday season is nearly here, and although it is a little hard to believe, the time has arrived—next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Each year, I like to begin the holidays by reflecting on the spirit of the season. Thanksgiving is one of my most beloved holidays of all. It means a break from work, an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, lots of food, and a full day’s worth of football—and of course, countless, creative ways to enjoy the leftovers.

This is the norm for many people, but it’s not always the case for others, and I hope we all keep this in mind throughout the holiday season. Many of our patients will need to spend the holiday in the hospital, and many UTMB providers and staff will unselfishly give up time with their own families and friends, or rearrange their holidays, to provide the very important care and services our patients and families need. To those of you who will be here to serve our patients and families over the holiday, thank you for your service.

Meanwhile, as many of us are busy researching recipes and preparing to enjoy Thanksgiving with friends and family, we should also keep in mind those who are less fortunate in our communities. Some are going through difficult or adverse situations; others face daily challenges simply meeting basic needs.

I know many of you remember these individuals all throughout the year. It lifts my spirit and warms my heart to hear so many stories about how members of the UTMB community go above and beyond to help our patients, families and community members each year. The level of kindness and generosity never ceases to amaze me.

Just this week, Karen Chapman, director of Rehabilitation Services, shared a story with me about Senior Physical Therapist Assistant, Keith Wright, who did something truly special for one of our trauma patients. As Karen met with the patient to discuss his discharge plans, he showed her the jacket, shoes and clothes Keith had provided to him (the patient’s clothes had been destroyed as a result of his accident). The patient was incredibly grateful for this act of kindness and generosity, and wanted to be sure this story was shared.

Hearing this made me think of something I had recently read: “Little things, be they gestures, actions or words, are the small things we do every day that naturally express our heart. They are not the result of calculations or intentions, but are rather spontaneous expressions of what we feel moved to do.” Keith exemplifies the spirit of everyone at UTMB who sees a need and quietly meets it.

Then, just two days later, I learned that our friends in Information Services had sponsored a food drive at their Thanksgiving Lunch on November 18. Through the generosity of its team members, Information Services was able to donate a total of 543 pounds of food and $798 in cash to the Galveston County Food Bank. This is a wonderful example of how giving doesn’t always have to be an expensive or grand gesture to truly make an impact. The efforts of many can often make a huge difference when combined!

That’s why each year I look forward to seeing what UTMB will give through its State Employees Charitable Campaign (SECC). It’s a small way we can all offer our help. One aspect about the campaign I appreciate is that I have an opportunity to review numerous charitable organizations that conduct very important work in our communities, and then choose which will benefit from my contribution over the next twelve months.

This year’s theme is “We Know You Have a Heart,” inspired by the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz”. Through the campaign, we hope to raise at least $500,000 and reach at least 30 percent participation across our institution. As you may know, charities rely heavily on donations from the SECC in order to fund their good work. In the past, in the Galveston area alone, the generous giving by UTMB employees has amounted to about half of all money raised for local and regional charities.

Alongside employees from across the region and state, our impact is far reaching. UTMB’s long legacy of kindness and caring provides food, shelter, health care and varied forms of support and encouragement for people in great need and causes worth supporting.

So far, we’ve reached a major milestone of raising more than $300,000. To the generous employees who have already supported SECC and the great work it makes possible, thank you—your gifts are appreciated! To those who’ve not yet supported SECC, please consider making your pledge for any amount today. It’s a wonderful way to show thanks for all our blessings, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Today, I encourage each of you to give to the SECC. To sweeten the deal, our 2014 SECC Chairman, Todd Leach, has put an exciting incentive to give on the table, called “100 MBs for 100 Percent”. For each area reaching 100 percent participation, each individual in the department will receive an additional 100 megabytes of storage for their email accounts—I know this will come in handy for my inbox!

No amount is too small. I believe it is not the amount we give, but more importantly, the fact that we have given. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift). Please visit the SECC website at http://www.utmb.edu/secc to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is December 5, 2014.

Let’s see if the entire Health System can reach 100% participation!

Perception is Reality

Last weekend, I had the chance to go to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta with my cousin and her grandson. I have always loved going to the aquarium. The vibrant colors in nature, like the intense yellow of the angel fish, amaze me. I enjoy watching the sea otters as they play together and swim through the water. My favorite habitat at the aquarium, though, is that of the penguins. I always laugh at their silly waddle and the way they flop forward onto their belly and then slide right into the water—they’re comical on land, but such fast and graceful swimmers.

11-15-14 seeing thingsAs I watched my cousin’s grandson, Cole, observe these sea animals for the first time, I felt almost like it was my first visit. I watched him as he scrutinized each creature’s movements; he laughed as the otters swirled and glided through the water, and he eagerly pointed out a whale shark as it passed over us in the glass tunnel. I have no doubt there will be many more visits in his future!

Watching Cole carefully examine each creature and point out every detail about them made me realize something—as we become more familiar with our surroundings and activities, we often miss the small details. We end up taking what is in front of us for granted, because it becomes a common experience to us.

This is an actual phenomenon, which psychologists refer to as “habituation”. Simply put, it is a decrease in response to something after repeated presentations—the more often we see something, the less we notice it.

This made me think about health care settings, and the fact that as caregivers and employees, we eventually become accustomed to our patient care environments. We become so used to seeing the same setting every day, we may hardly notice when something is out of place, something has collected a little dust, or that a new, unsightly blemish has appeared on a wall, a piece of equipment or furniture.

Because providers and staff are busy focused on patient care, these small details might be easily overlooked; however, patients are looking. I know from my own experience as a patient, when I’m waiting in an exam room, I usually have enough time to give it a thorough inspection. Small details and first impressions have the potential to create a powerful set of assumptions. If patients see something askew or neglected, it may plant seeds of doubt in their minds about quality of care. As an inpatient, one has even more time to examine the details of a room. If something is not working or doesn’t look clean, it may signal to the patient that we don’t care, which is certainly not the case.

Perception is reality to our patients and their families. That’s why as providers and employees we have to practice seeing every aspect of our interaction with patients from their perspective—it’s more important than most of us think.

In fact, a number of studies link a range of aspects of the physical environment to patient safety, patient and family stress and healing, improved overall health care quality and cost, and even staff stress and effectiveness. The physical environment shapes every patient experience and all health care delivery, including those episodes of care that result in patient harm, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). According to the NIH, various studies conducted at ambulatory care centers also show the physical environment has been associated with favorable patient outcomes.

The lists of physical features in care environments that are associated with positive patient experiences can be quite comprehensive, but some of the principle demands are an environment that:

  • Promotes safe behavior by patients, staff and visitors – for example plentiful, visible hand washing and hand disinfection stations.
  • Prevents accidents – for example ensuring spills are promptly cleaned up to prevent slips and falls.
  • Encourages patients and staff to feel reassured – through adequate interior and exterior lighting, visibility of security personnel, and, in the case of inpatient care, secure storage for personal items such as glasses, keys and money.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and aggression – through the provision of pleasant, comfortable waiting spaces, feedback and communication on waiting times and priorities, attention to ambient temperature, light and noise, etc.

These aspects can be further supported by robust monitoring and reporting, demonstrating a Culture of Trust, and having a sense of personal responsibility and willingness to admit safety concerns and report mistakes, should they occur.

On a regular basis, take an unbiased look at your patient care or service environment. Try seeing it from the patient’s perspective. What would be your first impression of the waiting area? Does furniture or equipment need repair? Is it dirty or scuffed? What does the front desk look like? Is there excessive or old signage? Are patients and family members warmly greeted on arrival? What do the exam rooms and/or inpatient rooms look like? Are ceiling tiles damaged? Is the work area cluttered? Is paint peeling or scuffed?

These are just some examples of things of which we should remain aware. I believe we do a wonderful job at UTMB of providing an excellent care environment, but we should always be vigilant. We need everyone’s help!

  • Report facilities issues that need maintenance; if the problem does not get fixed or you don’t have a response within a week, escalate it to your supervisor
  • Keep clutter out of the hallways
  • Assure all supplies are not expired and that they’re properly stored
  • Check for expired supplies and medications
  • Ensure refrigerator temperature monitoring, proper food labeling, and cleanliness
  • Make sure linens are covered
  • Eliminate dirty, cluttered work areas

It’s very easy to quickly resolve issues that impact patient care by dialing one number: 2-4040. Requests may also be made with each area’s designated Zone Mechanic. Calls will be routed to the UTMB Service Response Center, which has expanded its service to act as the single point of contact for all clinical support services in the following areas: Environmental Service, Pest Control, Food and Nutrition, Clinical Equipment, Nursing Unit Support, Maintenance, Utilities, and In-house Construction.

More information on these topics can also be found on UTMB’s internal web site, The Joint Commission: http://intranet.utmb.edu/qhs/TheJointCommission/default.asp

Thank you for the part you play in keeping UTMB hospitals and clinics beautiful and safe for our patients and our staff!

Safety Doesn’t Happen by Accident

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemGrowing up, I was somewhat of a rebel. My mother and father were often frustrated with me, because I didn’t want to follow their rules. I couldn’t understand why they got so upset about things like missing curfew, driving outside of town, and having a summer job. I was even more perplexed when they told me they established all of these rules to keep me safe. Really? I thought that sounded a lot like an excuse and not a reason!

But as I became an adult and had children of my own, I experienced what many of us have – I started sounding a lot like my parents when I started creating and enforcing “the rules”. When my kids pushed back, I cringed a little as I heard my own voice echo the words of my mom and dad: “These rules are meant to help you. They’re meant to keep you safe!”

I had to admit, my parents were right—it’s easy to think you’re safe from harm in your own backyard. It’s easy to underestimate that something harmful might happen to us  because the odds seem so small. We sometimes take our safety for granted, not realizing the potential hazards that can be present in our everyday activities. We feel a little overconfident at times, perhaps because we’ve done something so many times before, or we’ve become a little complacent and discount the risks—we think we’re being “safe enough”. However, taking risks and acting hastily are often the very elements that create an environment conducive for an error or accident to occur.

The same is true of safety cultures, and the longer I have worked in health care, the more I have come to appreciate the rules that are in place to keep employees and patients safe. We often emphasize the importance of safety in health care with the patient at the forefront, but the safety of our staff is equally important.

It’s easy to go through the motions of something as common as patient handling, drawing blood, or administering intravenous medications, but these are also some of the most common ways both health care workers and patients can be potentially harmed. Therefore, safety interventions, such as proper hand hygiene and safe lifting techniques, protect not only our patients, but our staff as well. This is why it’s important to practice these safety measures the same way, every time.

A perfect example of a safety intervention in place at UTMB is the barcode medication administration system we recently implemented. This is the system where the nurse scans his or her employee badge, scans the patient’s wrist band, and then scans the medication. Then, the system confirms for the nurse that they have the right patient, the right medication, the right dosage and it’s the right time for administration. Using this system is critical to assuring that we keep the patient as safe as possible. When we follow this process exactly, we almost completely rule out the possibility of a medication error, and that keeps the patient safe!

In areas where we do invasive procedures on patients, rules are in place to assure we are doing the correct procedure. If the procedure is a surgery, for example, the nurse asks the patient to confirm his/her name and birthdate to make sure it is the right patient. Then, the nurse or physician confirms with the patient the procedure they are about to undergo, and they mark the patient’s body on the correct side and specific location where the procedure will be performed. This process is repeated again once the patient is in the procedure room, when the physician calls a “time out”. Here, the physician again confirms the patient’s name and birthdate, the procedure to be performed, and the location. Then, anyone present may speak up to express concerns they have about any aspect of the procedure. These processes are in place to keep the patient safe and to assure that the staff proceed as planned.

If we watch other people on our team for “state to error” risk patterns, every time we see one, it will automatically make us think more about what we are doing. And if what we see is sensational enough, we’ll do more than think about it—we’ll actually react to it. This will not only protect our patients from harm, but we’ll also protect one another.

At UTMB, we work to do everything we can to create a safe and highly-reliable environment for our patients and employees. It is crucial all of our staff remain alert and work together as a team at all times to recognize and avoid potentially unsafe conditions and activities for the safety of all. Remember:

  • Everyone has a part to play in creating a safe and reliable care environment.
  • Slow down. Be methodical and mindful.
  • Support effective safety measures and demonstrate accountability at every step.
  • Report mistakes and system flaws — it is safe and valued.
  • Recognize individuals who act with safety in mind.
  • Speak up when you see something that feels unsafe, if you feel concerned, uncomfortable, or think the team should stop and reevaluate a situation.

Although health care settings are varied and present both common and unique safety issues, interventions to improve safety for patients also improve safety for employees. After all, safety doesn’t happen by accident!

“For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind.”  ~Eleanor Everet