Aloha Spirit, UTMB Spirit

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemMy husband and I took a vacation earlier this month to unwind and spend some quality time with our son, his wife and their eight-month old daughter, who currently live in California. We traveled to Kauai, the oldest and northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands. Kauai is sometimes called the “Garden Isle,” which is an entirely accurate description. It’s covered by lush, emerald green valleys, rainforests, breathtaking mountains and waterfalls. Aside from the fact that the island is inarguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, one of the most interesting things I noticed was the very warm and welcoming nature of our interactions with the native Kauaian people.

What stood out to me most was that people from the island almost always made eye contact and greeted us in a way that we felt they were genuinely happy to see us. The pace of life there is also different, in a positive way. Nothing is rushed. Meals, car travel, and the beginning and end of the day were always taken in a relaxed manner. Even when people were working, there seemed to be this underlying attitude that life is not about work—people got their work done, but there was less intensity about it. As the week progressed, I noticed my inclinations to hurry my meals, honk at the slower moving car in front of me, and ensure all of my waking hours were scheduled doing “something productive” subsided. I was truly able to experience what the Hawaiians call “The Aloha Spirit.”

In Hawaii, it is common for people to use the word “Aloha”, which in the Hawaiian language usually means both hello and goodbye. The word Aloha is used in a combination with other words, such as Aloha kakahiaka, which means good morning; Aloha auinala which means good afternoon; and Aloha ahiahi which means good evening. But the literal meaning of Aloha is actually “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.” It comes from “Alo,” meaning presence (front and face) and “ha,” meaning breath.

Aloha is more than a word. Hawaiian culture believes the word Aloha holds within itself all one needs to know to interact rightfully in the world. It is a beautiful concept that is taught from one generation to the next; it is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. In the contemplation and presence of Aloha, harmony, pleasantness, and patience are also a part of the “Way of Aloha.” The people of Hawaii try and serve with Aloha at work, speak with Aloha to others, and live Aloha every day. It’s even considered a state law!

Aloha Spirit State Law is defined in Hawaii Revised Statutes as the coordination of mind and heart within each person. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. Its main purpose as a state law is to serve as a reminder to government officials that while they perform their duties, they should treat people with compassion and respect. By learning and applying this lesson to real life, everyone in the community can contribute to a better world—a world filled with Aloha.

So my question to you today is how can we further the Aloha Spirit at our own organization? Better yet, in what ways can we demonstrate the “UTMB Spirit” each day?

With each and every interaction we have with others, let’s try to live and embrace the UTMB Spirit. Let’s demonstrate our core values and hold their meanings in high regard. Think of the picture we’re painting when we treat others with warmth and sincerity, and demonstrate compassion and respect to others. By being mindful of the life events of others—patients, families, visitors and colleagues alike, we make a difference. When we respect others, we value their feelings, wishes and rights; we recognize that they are human beings, and we care about how we treat them. Just as with our core value of integrity, when we respect others, we do the right thing by them because we know it is what should be done.

This year’s Nurses Week and Health System Week is winding down, but we should remember the theme chosen by our nurses for the week year-round: “It’s all about the patient.” Delivering excellent patient care is our mission in the Health System, but what we should emphasize is that every action and every decision we make must be made with the patient and family at heart. If we always remember this, we will never doubt what the right decision should be.

When we work together to identify and embrace the qualities that appeal most to our patients and families, and when we hold ourselves accountable to those practices daily, we build a culture that delivers a consistently outstanding experience to them and to one another. It is up to us to deliver what every patient, family member and employee deserves—the best possible care and a caring environment. And we are rewarded in turn. As the Hawaiians say, “Life is good when you live doing the right thing.” For all Aloha that is given, Aloha will be received!

I hope each and every one of you will demonstrate the “UTMB Spirit” to our patients, each patient, each encounter, every time.

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Honoring our past, embracing our future…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I was honored to welcome attendees to the 2015 Neuro Nurses’ Day Conference, an opportunity for practicing clinical nurses to share and explore recent advances in Neurology and Neurocritical Care. The daylong event was held in the Ashbel Smith Building, which many of you know affectionately as “Old Red”.

As I approached the front steps of Old Red, I thought about what a perfect setting this was for a conference about innovation and advances in health care, because this is where nearly 125 years ago, 23 students and 13 faculty members began UTMB’s legacy to advance health care education, research and patient care. Just five years later, UTMB’s School of Nursing opened as the first university-affiliated nursing school in the U.S.

UTMB was founded as a center for scientific inquiry, a training ground for the future of medicine, and a catalyst for improving the health of society. Since that time, we have earned a reputation for graduating health care professionals who share a deep commitment to excellence, a desire to blaze new trails, and an unsurpassed willingness to leverage their extraordinary expertise to improve the health and well-being of others. Today, UTMB continues its legacy and builds on its rich history. This made me think of a principle that a former mentor had shared with me: Respect all that is good about the past while looking forward to the future.

As we embark on our journey to increase the value (cost + quality) of patient care, we must ground those advances in the history of UTMB that has served us well over the past 125 years. The work we do for our patients is incredibly diverse and often complex. We care for patients from all backgrounds, ranging from the most critically ill to those who seek routine preventive care to stay healthy.thumb_972D434E3BF7486F824579B8DCD36448

Therefore, the work that we do for our students and trainees is also diverse and complex, and it is why we recognize lifelong learning as one of our core values. Despite the complexity and challenges of an ever-evolving health care landscape, UTMB is continually recognized for its exceptional achievements.

Innovative approaches to education, like online courses, are helping us offer students alternatives to traditional classroom learning. Thinking back, I remember after Hurricane Ike, I was so impressed to learn that almost all of our SOM and SON curricula were placed online so students could continue their studies without having to physically be on campus. Now, we offer educational outreach methods on an ongoing basis, like the UTMB School of Nursing’s RN-BSN program, which allows current registered nurses an opportunity to advance their education by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in a 30-hour, two-semester online program; these innovative approaches to education continue to blossom.

This year alone, nearly 1,000 total faculty members are preparing a diverse student body of more than 3,000 individuals across the fields of medicine, nursing, health professions and biomedical research for a bright future; more than 1,300 of those future leaders will graduate this year.

As I think about our future at UTMB, regardless of the department in which we work, we all have many opportunities to work together collaboratively to make a difference —not just within our own department, but across the entire organization. We continue to seek ways to provide the highest quality of care in every patient interaction. We embrace lifelong learning to grow professionally and take advantage of special educational programs, just like the 185 attendees at this week’s Neuro Nurses’ Conference. We explore ways to share our knowledge and expertise both with our UTMB colleagues and with others who share our commitment to and passion for exceptional patient care.

As we embrace our value of lifelong learning and spirit of innovation, let’s strive to:

  • Reach our fullest potential, personally and professionally.
  • Be adaptable and flexible in our approach to our work so that innovation is a natural outcome of the way we work.
  • Remain open to new approaches and practices in our work.
  • Value the ideas of others and respond in positive ways—this does not necessarily mean we must embrace every idea we hear, but it does mean that we support a culture where new ideas and innovation are welcomed and freely explored.
  • Commit to putting our patients and families first, so that we advance patient- and family-centered care.

UTMB has an unparalleled legacy of service because of the caliber of its people, and in true UTMB spirit, we are thinking boldly about how we can expand the impact of our excellence nationally and globally. Each of us at UTMB Health can best honor our rich history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on our future. We commit to excellence in all that we do as we work together to work wonders for our patients.

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

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 

Leading Positive Change

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSteve Jobs and many other successful leaders have been quoted on similar words of advice: perseverance is what makes the difference between success and failure. Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance…unless you have a lot of passion, you’re not going to survive. You’re going to give it up. So you’ve got to have an idea or a problem or a wrong that you want to right that you’re passionate about; otherwise, you’re not going to have the perseverance to stick it through.”

At UTMB Health, our passion is providing excellent care and service for our patients and families. This requires dedication, innovative thinking and tremendous talent. Above all, it requires teamwork. Making a difference—even if we’re not in a position that we might perceive as a “commanding” position—doesn’t mean that we are not influential and respected leaders on our teams or that we lack power to make a difference.

Many of you may be familiar with TED Talks. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

I recently watched a TEDx presentation by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author, who is in the business of “sparking change”. Named one of the “50 most influential business thinkers in the world” by Accenture and Thinkers 50 research, Kanter has worked with thousands of leaders in dozens of countries. Her experiences have helped her extract what she believes to be the Six Keys to Leading Positive Change: show up, speak up, look up, team up, never give up, and lift others up. I thought Kanter’s ideas would resonate with all of us, no matter what role we have at UTMB. These are some simple things we can all work toward each day that will not only help us contribute to our teams, but also make us better leaders (formal and informal) and promote our Culture of Trust.postive change

In this inspiring presentation, Kanter illuminates each key by carefully weaving in the stories of influential world leaders, fictional characters, and even ordinary people whose passions have ignited positivity. They are the stories of people who released their ideas into the world, found partners to help advance their goals, and remained motivated in the face of adversity.

How can we lead positively? These six positive things can help us keep things moving in the right direction and are ideas that each of us can use every day at work:

  1. Show up. If you don’t show up, nothing really happens. This means being both physically and mentally present, ready to make a contribution. Be there. Be present. The very fact that you show up and realize that your presence makes a difference is the first key to leadership.
  2. Speak up. No one knows what we’re thinking if we don’t express it! The power of having a voice isn’t simply about words; the power of having a voice is shaping the agenda and shaping issues for others—make people think about things in different ways. The person who is most influential in a discussion is the one who names the problem and gives people an idea for action. In a Culture of Trust, we all feel free to speak up, regardless of our role in the organization, because it is only when we are all willing to share our ideas and speak up that our patients get the best care and our work is best supported.
  3. Look up. Look up at a higher principle—a bigger issue, vision or value. Without values, leadership is hollow. It is important for any leader to know what they stand for and to be able to elevate people’s eyes from the everyday problems that bog us down. We need leaders who help us get above those issues and realize what is truly fundamental in our values. Great companies stand for their mission, vision and values. When their leaders lead, they constantly remind people of a nobler purpose. It isn’t just about making money; it’s about trying to achieve something for the world. We should remind ourselves every day of that for which we stand. Dr. Joan Richardson, our own Chair of Pediatrics, said it best: “We want everyone who works at UTMB to be able to look people directly in the eye and say: ‘The care you will receive at UTMB Health will be the same care I would want my most cherished of loved ones to receive.'”
  4. Team up. Everything flows better with partnerships. Anything worth doing is very difficult to do alone! The best enterprises and ventures are those in which there is a sense of partnership from the very beginning—in addition to having a good value proposition, successful organizations partner faster. There is great value in taking lots of separate efforts, bringing them together and aligning in one big team.
  5. Never give up. Everything can look like a failure in the middle of the process. There’s almost nothing we start that doesn’t hit a roadblock or obstacle. At other times, a project can take longer than we imagined, because we have never done it before! The critics may surface and start attacking: “It doesn’t work!” You may have to go back to the drawing board. If you stop prematurely, it truly will be a failure. However, if you persist and persevere, if you find a way around the obstacles and flexibly redesign, often you can create a success. And it may not always be the success you first imagined. Keep in mind that a lot of technology turns out to be applied in ways we never thought of in the beginning. The ability to hang in there and not give up is a hallmark of leaders. It is also the hallmark of all of you who have worked so hard to bring UTMB back after Hurricane Ike.
  6. Lift others up. Share success. The credit, the recognition and the idea of giving back once you have a success is what creates an environment in which you can do it again, and it builds support. It’s great to feel positive about an achievement, but make sure others feel elevated by what you do as well.

 

Plate Spinner Extraordinaire!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is an old episode of the Ed Sullivan Show I’ve thought of often, lately. It features a man who may quite possibly be the most famous and skilled multitasker that ever graced the show—a man from Austria, Erich Brenn—plate spinner extraordinaire.

Brenn was a master at the art of plate spinning. His routine consisted of spinning five glass bowls on four foot-long sticks all while spinning eight plates on the same tables. Intermittently, he also managed to balance a tray carrying glasses and eggs and in one swoop would remove one of the trays causing an egg to fall into each glass.

He would also carry a separate tray lined with glasses and spoons in front of them. With a simple flip, every spoon would magically fall into a glass. All of this, of course, was done while keeping those glass bowls spinning atop their sticks. As some sticks began to slow down, it would cause the glass bowls to wobble uncontrollably—often getting a rise out of audiences thinking the bowl would soon smash to a million pieces. Just in the nick of time, Brenn would run in and save the day!

Erich Brenner spinning bowls and plates on the Ed Sullivan show. View the video below.

Erich Brenn spinning bowls and plates on the Ed Sullivan show. View the video below.

With so many initiatives underway as a result of a reforming health care environment and the progressive work taking place at UTMB, I often feel like we are spinning plates and bowls ourselves! Every day, our health care teams work hard to ensure our patients and families receive the highest quality care, and they are continually working to develop more efficient processes and new models of care. Meanwhile, many others are looking at ways we can improve access to our system and enhance communication with our patients and families—all multifaceted initiatives. Other projects include the improvement of documentation and reporting, so we can better understand how to improve care delivery and reduce readmissions. With the time we have left after all of this, we are garnering new accreditations, maintaining current accreditations and preparing for our upcoming Joint Commission reaccreditation survey—just to cite a few examples.

But wait, there’s more! (It’s time to add a little more suspense to our spinning act.) At UTMB, we are working hard to become the preferred health care provider in the region for our patients, partners and referring physicians. Our entire organization is buzzing with new construction and facility renovations. Meanwhile, we’ve been working around the clock to prepare for the launch of our new partnership with Angleton Danbury Medical Center, an exciting opportunity that will help us bring a number of important services to patients throughout our region. Our colleagues in Revenue Cycle Operations have collected over $10 million in additional cash beyond our targets this year. Many of you are involved in Medicaid 1115 Transformation Waiver program projects, and there are many end-of-year tasks to complete, like navigating our way through a new performance evaluation tool, completing annual compliance training and wrapping up the budget.

Just like Erich Brenn spinning plates and bowls on the Ed Sullivan Show, it can sometimes seem like a true marvel that we have accomplished so much at UTMB. Sometimes the plates spin a little faster, sometimes a little slower, but I can certainly say that, whatever challenges we accept, you all rise to the occasion, managing these tasks with grace under pressure and incredible skill. Just as importantly, you do it all through teamwork and realize that we are in this together for the ultimate benefits of our patients and families. Because we move forward with such momentum, I think sometimes it can be easy to forget to reflect on all that we have accomplished within the course of just one year—it is tremendous. With this in mind, I want to be sure you all know that UTMB’s executive leadership and I realize how hard you all work to help UTMB be successful. We thank you for everything you do!

Integrity: The Foundation for Building a Culture of Trust

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWarren Buffet, widely considered the most successful investor of the 20th century, is chairman, CEO and the largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate holding company. He once said, “I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence and the third is a high energy level. But if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

A person can have all of the capability to achieve greatness, and they may be successful in many of their endeavors, but if they are insincere—the opposite of someone with integrity—they are not very trustworthy! When a person’s trust level with others decreases, it diminishes their credibility and causes others to question their motives, agenda and behavior. This person will spend a lot of time and energy covering their tracks and carrying the load on their own.

There is a saying, “Character is who you are in the dark.” Integrity is a quality of character that can’t outwardly be seen by others; it’s how we would act if no one was looking. People with integrity do the right thing whether or not they will be recognized for it. They believe in what they do and why they do it. When a person acts with integrity, they stand firm in their values. That is why integrity is at the heart of building a Culture of Trust at UTMB and why it is one of our core values, guiding us down The Road Ahead.

Jim Collins wrote a book, Good to Great, based on a five-year research project that compared teams who made a leap to greatness with those that did not. He found that greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance, but largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline. He says that great leaders are “a paradoxical blend of humility and professional will”. These leaders are open to the ideas of others and acknowledge that no one can possibly know it all. Good leaders realize that it is better to act on the right ideas rather than to be the one with all the ideas—they are team players. They do what needs to be done because they know it is what should be done.

Having integrity requires courage—doing the right thing isn’t always easy or comfortable. Integrity is not only important when we are faced with something that hasn’t gone well or during times of confrontation. It shines through when our actions follow our words; there is no gap between our intent and our behavior. Demonstrating integrity, and therefore acting with sincerity and trustworthiness, inspires others to do the same. This is how, by holding the value of integrity in high esteem, we truly help build a Culture of Trust.

We all share in the responsibility of creating a safe and reliable care environment for our patients, their families, and our colleagues. We trust one another to do the right thing, and moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. But we cannot have a safe, reliable environment without integrity, nor can we ever achieve a Culture of Trust at UTMB.

So, how do we increase our integrity? There are a few simple questions we can ask ourselves each day:

  • Do I genuinely try to be honest in my interactions with others?
  • Do I “walk the talk”? Does the manner in which I speak to others reflect my respect for all those with whom I work? Do my actions?
  • Am I clear on my own values and do I feel comfortable standing up for them?
  • Am I open to the  possibility of seeing another side of a debate that may cause me to rethink the issues and my stance?
  • Do I consistently make and keep commitments, both to myself and to others?

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” Compassion, integrity, respect, diversity and lifelong learning—our Culture of Trust depends on how well we demonstrate our core values each and every day.

Recognizing Team Accomplishments, Sharing a Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to recognize an accomplishment or creative solution, please share with it us! Email us at health.system@utmb.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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