Repair the Roof When the Sun Is Shining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust: The Most Essential Ingredient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Act of Kindness Allows a Man to See Daughter Graduate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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:

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 

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

New Year’s Resolutions

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEach New Year presents new opportunities—opportunities to learn new things, to focus on what we hope to achieve in the future and to treat one another and ourselves better. As we bring one year to a close and embark on a new stage in our journey, it is important for each of us at UTMB Health to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make, set our sights on what we’d like to achieve in the next 12 months and resolve to follow through on those changes.

On an individual level, we can choose what we want for ourselves in the New Year; on an organizational level, we share in many of our goals, and we are guided by core values that help to define our culture. As an academic medical center, faculty members, health care providers, staff and students all share in the responsibility of caring for our patients and improving health in the communities we serve. Sharing a common vision keeps everyone moving forward. Teamwork and collaboration are the very basis for the great accomplishments that we will achieve.

If we resolve to place the patient at the center of everything we do and to abide by our core values in all of our endeavors, we will meet with success in not only achieving our goals, but ultimately by providing the best care for our patients and their families. We’ll also go a long way toward creating a safe and positive work environment for everyone at UTMB.

So let us begin 2014 by reaffirming the values which serve as the cornerstone of UTMB’s reputation as a leading academic health center and an institution deserving of the trust that our patients and their families place in us:

We demonstrate compassion for all. The letters I receive daily from our patients reflect that compassion is alive and well at UTMB. Caring for others is why we are here! In 2014, may we always maintain an awareness of others and consider what life may be like after walking a mile in their shoes. Many of you may have seen the video “What if you could read their thoughts?” in which Cleveland Clinic explores what empathy really means and explores how our interactions with others would change if we knew what they were feeling and thinking. In a hospital, empathy underpins human relationships, and I encourage you to view the video if you haven’t already.

We always act with integrity. Everyone plays a part in creating a safe and reliable care environment. Each of us holds ourselves accountable and each of us expects one another to do the same. As the saying goes, “Character is who you are in the dark.”  When no one’s looking, we are the ones to whom we answer. Having integrity means we believe in what we do and why we do it, and essentially, we trust one another to do the right thing. Moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. They trust us to be honest, qualified, knowledgeable and to not only have one another’s best interests at heart, but to especially have at heart what is in their best interest.

We show respect to everyone we meet. It is widely acknowledged that there are different kinds of respect. Respect can be defined simply as a behavior or it can be defined as an attitude or feeling. However, respect is always directed toward, paid to, felt about, or shown for another person. We can show respect to others by valuing and appreciating them as unique individuals and when in the work environment, also treating them as esteemed colleagues. We show respect by listening and engaging during discussions and meetings. We value the thoughts and opinions of others, even when we may think or feel differently. Finally, we regard one another not merely as a means to serve a purpose, but as valuable human beings. Therefore, we should all work in partnership with one another because we are all here at UTMB, in whatever our role, to serve a single purpose: to provide the best service and safest possible care for our patient and their families.

We embrace diversity to best serve a global community. The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences, including dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other the best we can and moving forward in our encounters with respect of those differences, including how we communicate, educate and provide patient care. We should embrace and celebrate the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

We promote excellence and innovation through lifelong learning.  Through innovation and by exploring new solutions, we not only gain knowledge, but we are also then able to contribute to the greater body of knowledge. Lifelong learning makes us successful, no matter what our definition of success may be. We grow as a person through learning and when one masters a subject through continuous learning, it brings satisfaction. Lifelong learning enables us to be confident, competent, and knowledgeable; it increases productivity and makes us better leaders.

I’ve said it before, but I am proud to be part of an organization like UTMB and to work alongside each of you. Everyone is doing a truly remarkable job, both by helping one another and going the extra mile to serve our patients and families. So this year, let’s embrace the values of compassion, integrity diversity, respect and lifelong learning and embark on the beginning of a very successful 2014!

Be sure to share the great achievements you and your teams accomplish along the way!

The Greatest Accomplishments are Achieved Through Teamwork

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn the world of health care today, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about the necessity of teamwork or that the greatest accomplishments are achieved when people work in teams. Teamwork requires constant attention, communication, inclusion and collaboration.

One of my favorite sports is basketball, and one of the all-time greats and holder of six NBA championship rings, Michael Jordan, once said the said the following: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

Think about it. We have so many talented and intelligent people who work at UTMB, but Jordan’s sentiment about teamwork is the essential ingredient for ultimate success. At UTMB, we have to work together to benefit the health and care of patients. Just before the holidays, I took some time to review everything that we had collectively achieved over the past year, and not only was it clear to me that we are all passionate about being the best possible place for patients to receive care, but I was amazed by all that we had accomplished as a result of this teamwork!

We began 2013 by breaking ground on the Victory Lakes expansion, an exciting project that will allow UTMB to provide more services and convenience to our patients in the Bay Area while also offering a more integrated system of care. Meanwhile, we built mock-up rooms of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital to allow staff and community members a chance to provide feedback; we made modifications based on that input and then conducted patient simulation drills to ensure the design would be as refined as possible for our patients, their families and our patient care teams.

We made a collective commitment to engage our patients and their families in every stage of their care by placing them at the center of their care team. We also went live with utmbConnect, which enabled us to offer our patients the convenience of a single electronic medical record and a combined bill for all of their encounters at UTMB. And speaking of the utmbConnect project, UTMB recently received news that we were rated an “A+” top-tier performer by Epic—what an outstanding achievement! We could not have been as successful without a tremendous amount of teamwork across all areas of the institution.

In 2013, it seemed as though awards came in one after another. We became first hospital in Texas to receive American Health Association’s Get with the Guidelines®-Resuscitation Silver Quality Achievement Award and became one of four centers Texas and one of 44 in the U.S. to be designated as an AAGL Center of Excellence Distinction for Minimally Invasive Gynecology. We also received certification from the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, and these are only a few examples of recognitions—don’t forget the SICU’s recent Gold-level Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and Family Medicine’s recognition as an NCQA Level-3 Patient Centered Medical Home. This was quite a year for UTMB!

We also developed great partnerships, such as the shared pilot program between the UTMB Emergency Department and Galveston EMS that reduces the time it takes to get a stroke patient to a CT scan after reaching the ER entrance from 20 minutes to 2 minutes—this is valuable time saved for a stroke patient, who may lose 10 percent of salvageable brain function for every 15 minutes they go untreated.

I could fill an entire book with all the great accomplishments over the past year, and I assure you, these are but a handful of the highlights. I am excited to share all that we will accomplish through teamwork in 2014. If you have stories that you would like to share, please send them to me at

Thank you for your teamwork. I am proud to work with each of you and to be part of the UTMB team!

Making a Pound of Honey

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI have always been fascinated by honeybees. I often observed the bees as a child, and although I’d occasionally get too close for their comfort and was stung, I was still very intrigued by how synchronized they were in their work and how each bee seemed to have a certain role.

During a honeybee’s short lifetime, which lasts about two months, it will visit millions of flowers and travel a distance equivalent to twice around the earth, while only producing one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. Thus, it requires anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 bees to make a single pound of honey. From the queen bee to each and every worker bee, the entire hive must work together in their roles to achieve their life’s purpose of making honey.

This past week, I thought of the bees and the magnitude of their collaborative effort when I heard about two outstanding recognitions achieved at UTMB—these accomplishments could not have been possible without a tremendous amount of teamwork!

News of the first recognition came last Friday, when David Marshall, our chief nursing and patient care services officer, sent out an announcement that UTMB’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) was awarded the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ACCN) Beacon Award.

The Beacon Award recognizes individual units that distinguish themselves by improving all aspects of patient care. It also signifies that UTMB patients who are admitted to our SICU experience better outcomes and are more satisfied with their overall experience.

For our nurses, this award means that generally, there is a positive and supportive work environment with a greater degree of teamwork and collaboration between all caregivers, higher employee morale and lower turnover rates. What an outstanding accomplishment that exemplifies the phrase “win-win” for both our patients and the staff of the SICU!

In addition, earlier this week, Dr. Barbara Thompson, professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine, received the news that all three of our Family Medicine practice sites (Island West, Island East and Dickinson) were awarded Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) status, the highest level recognized by National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). Only a little more than half of NCQA-recognized practices have achieved the Level 3 status.

This recognition acknowledges an undertaking that began in the fall of 2011 to prepare our clinics to operate under a special model of patient care that is designed to strengthen the relationship between the patient and their care team. Each patient has an ongoing relationship with their care team, which consists of their physician, a medical assistant, nurses, patient care technicians and other clinical and administrative staff, at a single location. The team takes collective responsibility for the patient’s care, providing for his/her health care needs and arranging for appropriate care with other qualified clinicians. The medical home is intended to result in more personalized, coordinated, effective and efficient care. This is the epitome of teamwork, and having this recognition positions UTMB well for the future of health care reform!

Each of us works on a team that in some way, shape or form impacts our patients, and we all have an important role to play in assuring that our patients receive the best possible care. Our individual contributions to the team on which we work are critical to achieving UTMB’s vision of “working together to work wonders as we define the future of health care and strive to be the best in all endeavors.”

Thank you for your individual contributions to the team. Your work truly does make a difference in patients’ lives!