The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I was in grade school, time seemed to stand still. The school year seemed to last forever, and it felt like summer would never arrive. The days before Christmas (which my family celebrates) were the longest days imaginable. The hands on the clock seemed to stand still as I waited for my cousin and best friend to come over to play.

I have a vivid memory as a twelve-year-old. I was sitting on the steps of our front porch and thinking about my grandparents, who had recently come to visit. I was worried about getting old like they were—I didn’t want to grow old! However, when I did the math, I realized that they were 62, and I remember promptly feeling much, much better because that was such a long way off!

Now, fast forward to this past December. All of my children and their families were visiting for the holidays. Both of my twin sons and their wives had become parents that year, and they were enjoying introducing their daughter and son to all the members of our family. I remember one evening as we all sat around the living room, one of my sons commented on how quickly time had seemed to pass, “It seems like it was just last week that we were all together for the winter holidays.” I smiled as I wondered how he grew up so fast and was now married with a daughter.

These days, time seems to fly!

It is almost unbelievable to me that this is the last Friday Flash Report of fiscal year 2015, and next week we will publish the last Friday Focus Newsletter of the year. Many of the plans we made when we started this year are now complete. The FY2016 budget is behind us, as are all of the performance evaluations. The 84th legislative session came to a close in June, and we made some additional strides in service to patients through the Correctional Managed Care program. We have also worked hard to integrate the Angleton Danbury Campus into UTMB, and implemented UTMB’s electronic medical record (Epic) throughout the site.

We have made tremendous progress this year! Each day, I’m amazed by the view from my office, as I see the beautiful new Jennie Sealy Hospital nearing completion. I look forward to celebrating its opening next spring. I continue to marvel at UTMB’s growth off the island. From the League City Campus to the Angleton Danbury Campus, to the openings of the Primary and Specialty Care Clinics in Texas City and Alvin, and the new Pediatric Urgent and Primary Care Clinic in Galveston, it has been a year of progress and growth, and these exceptional facilities will help us better serve our patients and train future physicians, nurses and health professionals.

Although the past year was challenging at times, it is anticipated that the Health System will meet its budget on the close of business August 31, 2015. And in addition to all of this, we have achieved many new certifications that speak to the talent, skill and teamwork involved in making sure that our patients receive the very best of care. To all of you who have worked so hard to help UTMB achieve this growth and success, thank you!

We have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming fiscal year. Thinking about all that we aspire to achieve, we realize there will be more hard work ahead of us, and we will surely be met with a few new challenges, as well. But I am certain we will rise to the occasion and succeed by remaining focused on the initiatives that will move our organization forward.

In the coming fiscal year, our focus in the Health System will be to:

  • Make a quantum leap in our quality and safety performance. We already have many strategies in place to address and improve our performance in the quality measurements of value-based purchasing, including patient satisfaction, 30-day readmissions, healthcare-associated infections and hospital-acquired conditions, as well as hand hygiene. While we have seen some improvements in the past year, all other organizations to which we compare ourselves have also improved, and some have improved more quickly than we have. We must achieve greater improvements in quality and safety!
  • Continue investments in our people. We will refer to the results of the upcoming You Count! Pulse Survey to continue to identify and act on improvements you recommend. I am not sure if you know it or not, but Friday Flash Reports began as a result of feedback from Health System employees who asked to hear more from me about where we were headed and how each individual in our organization plays an important role in our future. Many of the new offerings for training in Human Resources have also been resulted from survey feedback.
  • Achieve a $49M improvement in net patient care margin. We have developed action plans which address the needed improvements, and we will need to utilize all of our resources effectively in order to meet this goal.
  • Become more transparent. You will soon be seeing UTMB’s quality information reported publicly on our website. The data will be front and center for our patients and community to easily access. Some of the information will be specific—for example, patient satisfaction responses will be presented at the provider level. Some organizations are already doing this, and we believe it is critical that we share how we are performing in these areas with our community and our patients in a timely and accurate manner.

The future will be here before we know it. If we maintain a laser-like focus on these four areas—the continued investments in our people, quantum leaps in quality and safety, transparency with our outcomes, and using our resources as wisely as possible—the future will be filled with promise.

I always look for inspiration, whether it’s in something I’m reading, a story about one of our employees, or a conversation I have along the way. In his commencement address to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford, Steve Jobs asked the audience if they could remember the last time they had asked themselves why they were doing something, or why it mattered to them. He said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

We are all in health care because we believe in what we do. I love what I do. Although I do not deliver direct patient care, I make an impact and that matters to me. Through my work, I am helping make a difference in people’s lives. I’m able to support those who do work on the front lines of health care. And I believe in delivering excellent patient care. I believe in keeping our patients and families safe and at the heart of everything we do. I believe in offering the very best facilities and services for our employees and those we serve. And I believe that if we remain dedicated and focused, we will be successful in all our endeavors this year.

Happy New Fiscal Year, and thank you each for all you do to make UTMB a great place to receive care and a great place to work!

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot.

 

 

 

Working Hard: Allow Your Purpose to Be Your Passion

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn the past couple of years, I have started using social media, because I have found it to be a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, whether they are nearby or living across the country. Most often, my social media platform of choice is Facebook, because it is a terrific way to see pictures of my grandchildren each day and watch them grow.

I also enjoy seeing people’s posts of their favorite sayings. Even though the sayings do not always resonate with me on a personal level, from time to time, I come across a saying that really strikes me. This happened a few days ago when someone posted: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” How true!

Years ago, my daughter, Shannon, was in the final stretch of completing her MBA program, and she had started interviewing for jobs. She was considering offers at several big consulting firms, as well as a large energy provider. She called me one evening to talk about her dilemma. While the amount of money she could make if she chose to work at one of the consulting firms or the energy company was appealing, she kept thinking about an interview she’d had with United Way.

She told me that she really wanted to take the job offer with United Way, because she felt she would make a bigger impact in other people’s lives than she would at a consulting firm. Making an impact was really important to her. Yet, her friends kept telling her it would be a mistake to choose a non-profit organization, because she would never make the money there that she could earn in the private sector.

She and I talked about this for a while, and then I gave her my advice: We will all spend many hours at work, which will add up to a good part of our lives—we will often spend as much time with our work colleagues as we do with our own families, if not more. Thus, we should love what we do, so that when we get up each morning, we are energized at the possibilities that are before us at work.

My daughter eventually took the job with United Way and has not looked back. For Shannon, she put her business degrees to the best use by making the business case for individuals to give to those who are not as fortunate as many of us.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many master’s prepared students over the years, and in the capacity as their preceptor, I have been able to provide career guidance. My message to them as they consider the various areas within health care they could work is to choose their passion. If you are passionate about your work, you will always love what you do.

I know that we face many changes and challenges as an organization, yet each day, I am excited to come to work. While I cannot provide direct patient care, in my work, I can influence decisions that will directly and positively impact our patients. I also have the opportunity to hear each day about the ways each of you positively impacts our patients and their families. That, in itself, is enough to keep me motivated and passionate about what I do.

I started a habit many years ago. Each day as I drive home, I try to reflect on the biggest impact I made that day. This practice has helped me to remain focused on the positive, rather than on the things that I found stressful or non-productive. I end the day with a smile on my face and feeling good about the work I have accomplished.

I hope that each one of you will focus on the positive contributions you make each day at UTMB. I know as I hear from your colleagues, your patients and their family members, you are each making positive contributions to the overall success of UTMB Health. Let’s make a habit of starting and ending each day thinking about the positive possibilities and the positive work that we impact. In doing so, we will remain passionate about our work and its impact on others.

A Story of Care and Compassion

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I would like to share a letter from a patient’s family member, who was very complimentary of the level of patient care, compassion and professionalism the family experienced at UTMB.

Direct patient and family feedback is one of the most valuable ways we can identify areas in which we are performing well and areas in which we can improve. No matter how well we do, we should always strive to make the experience better. I admit, I became teary eyed as I read this letter, because I could tell how very much our patient care teams truly care, and I could empathize with how much it meant to this family during a very difficult time.

While the family of this patient was extremely grateful for all of the care and support they received, there were a couple of situations in which they suggested we could improve; I think that it is important to share that feedback, just as much as the positive aspects. For example, we must remember to always use discretion and confidentiality when discussing patient status—this is important not only from a privacy point of view, but also out of consideration of the patient’s and family’s emotional reactions to any news they receive.

Additionally, while we often have a tendency to explain things in full detail when everything is going well, we must also remember to disclose what is taking place behind the scenes, such as when unexpected wait times occur. When a family feels well-informed at all times, it can greatly reduce the anxiety they may be experiencing.

The following letter has been edited to protect patient privacy:

I’m writing you this letter to let you know of the wonderful care [my husband] received from February 26 until his passing on April 23, 2015. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I kept notes and tried to write down all of the wonderful things that happened. I have decided that I will just list all of the special people at the end of this letter. I hope that they and their supervisor are made aware of this letter. They all truly did “Go That Extra Mile” in [his] care. True care and compassion is not something that can be faked; if a person shows compassion, it is genuine.

My family and I have been involved with UTMB Galveston since moving to the island in 1992. I was even employed at the university for several years. Our family has watched UTMB transition through those years, and I can honestly say that the level of care my husband received exceeded all of our expectations. There have been times over this 20-year period where as a patient, you felt more like a project or an obligation. That is not the case now. The care that my husband received was professional and compassionate. There were so many times that the staff took time to include [the family] not only in his care, but to show genuine concern and compassion for us as well. This meant so much to us over our 57-day journey.

The continuity of his care was evident all along his stay, from the ER staff to the respiratory care team, the SICU staff and trauma staff. I saw firsthand how each team took time to explain to the oncoming shift what had happened and what was planned. One thing that truly impressed me was how a critically ill patient is transported to radiology or other procedures. It was always a comfort to know that my husband was never alone through all of this—he always had at least one person that was dedicated to him and his care. That means more than you can know to a family member.

I was with my husband from the first day to the last. I was anxious as it was explained to me what was wrong and what we were to expect. My anxiety became better controlled once I got to witness the trauma team and SICU staff in action. We were told that the first weekend was critical—of course, this was initially after the first surgery. I appreciated the physician’s reluctance to label my husband as critical; unfortunately, he was critical from the beginning to the end. We had a few days of consciousness—that was always a blessing to him with his eyes open. They did a great job of keeping him pain free.

There was one night shortly after his initial surgery that he developed a problem, and we all had to rush to the hospital. A wonderful nurse, Rachel Murphy, held my hands and told me that we were in a marathon, not a sprint. Those words were just what I needed to hear. I will be forever in her debt; those words helped me through this ordeal more than she will ever know.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Janie Pietramale, the outstanding volunteer that handles the surgery waiting room. Janie took the time to get to know us. Her words were always comforting and filled with such genuine compassion. She deserves recognition for the positive impact she has on families at such a stressful time in their lives.

The parking garage staff of Garage 1 showed compassion beyond the scope of their jobs. When you are in the hospital for 57 days, you start making friends all over the place. When they would ask how that day went, I knew that it was sincere and not small talk. Many times, I was able to drive away with a little extra comfort from one of these beautiful ladies.

As with any situation, there is always room for improvement. There seemed to be a delay in medication as it was ordered and delivered. I know that logistically things have to be done, but more than once during our stay, my husband was waiting for medication to be brought up from the pharmacy. Hopefully this is something you can look into. There was also a problem and delay with his initial Wound-Vac. I am not sure of the problems or delays, but hopefully this can be corrected before another patient needs one.

I believe it would be beneficial for there to be a counseling room set up near the surgery waiting area. As it is now, physicians or staff come out to let the family know how the surgery went. It is discussed openly where everyone can hear. This was not a problem for me personally, but I did hear some comments about it being discussed so openly.

I want to close this letter with my sincere thanks to everyone involved in my husband’s care. Our final day came on April 23, 2015. Dr. Lance Griffin and his team and SICU staff did such a wonderful job in helping us through that final day. [My husband] was able to go peacefully and pain free with us by his side. This was their final act of compassion when we needed it the most.

The opportunities for improvement are welcomed comments as we look for ways we can make Health System operations better for our patients. I know that our pharmacy team is doing all that it can to minimize delays in medications arriving on the floor. The same is true for getting needed patient equipment to the floor. In addition, the comment about the counseling room speaks to the need for the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, because we have been able to incorporate sorely needed support spaces into the design that simply are not available in the John Sealy Hospital. While we do have a private consultation room near the surgery waiting area, it is clear that we need to do a better job of communicating this resource.

Letters like this are so important because they allow us to look at what we are doing well and do more of it. At the same time, it gives us a chance to see the care we deliver through our patient’s eyes and find ways we can improve.

A final word: in light of this week’s inclement weather, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who truly went above and beyond to ensure our patients and families received the very best care and service. They truly put their trust in us to do so, and I know this is a reflection of the work you do each day. Thank you for working together to work wonders!

 

At UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Saturday, I attended the annual American Heart Association’s Black Tie & Boots Gala. Each year, the event raises funds for research of a specific disease or condition, and a guest speaker—who is a survivor—tells the story of their own experience. In addition to cardiovascular-related research, donations raised at local American Heart Association events help fund clinician scientists who are leading the efforts in stroke research, and that is what the gala supported this year.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke, and every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain; it occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

This year, Sharon Bourg, a UTMB nurse in the Emergency Department, was the guest speaker and shared her very moving personal story.

One day, while caring for a patient in the Emergency Room, Sharon had difficulty putting the blood pressure cuff on her patient’s arm. This was something she’d never had trouble with before. The patient noticed Sharon was having difficulty and that she did not seem well. The patient asked her if she was feeling okay, but Sharon didn’t realize anything was seriously wrong. She felt as though the words she spoke were coming out just fine. But they were not. A moment later, Sharon collapsed and was unable to speak or move. It was the patient who alerted the ER staff by hitting the nurse call button. Immediately Sharon was surrounded by her co-workers, who began working quickly to save her life.

Heart Gala 060615-4260 (1)

Christine Wade, ED Nursing Director, and Sharon Bourg, ED Nurse at the 2015 AHA Gala

Fortunately, today Sharon has no residual signs of her stroke, because she quickly received the necessary and very important care she needed. There is a saying: “Time is brain.” Once a stroke begins, neurons in the brain start to rapidly deteriorate, and victims lose 10 percent of salvageable brain for every 15 minutes that they go untreated. Therefore, limiting the extent of damage requires urgent, expert evaluation and treatment.

Sharon and other patients who come to UTMB are in good hands when it comes to stroke care—after all, at UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own! Precious moments awaiting treatment do not have to be wasted thanks to the expertise and training of the staff of our Emergency Room and the Stroke, Neurovascular and Neurointerventional team. In fact, UTMB is a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center, and the team is working hard to become a Comprehensive Center.

It is because of the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke that Sharon agreed to share her story with the UTMB community, as well as at the AHA fundraising event. If you think you are having a stroke or notice the following signs in someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call for help right away! F.A.S.T. is:

  • Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Since 2012, the American Heart Association (AHA) has raised over $1 million through donations in Galveston. In the video below, Christine Wade, ED Nurse Director, comments on the tremendous strides that have been made in the treatment and care of stroke patients over the years, thanks in great part to the funding received from organizations like AHA. Please take a moment to watch Sharon’s story and learn about the outstanding teamwork at UTMB that saved her life. If you’re interested in supporting the continued research efforts of stroke and heart disease, please visit the website of the American Heart Association or American Stroke Association.

If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout six years ago, my daughter, Shannon, decided she wanted to train for the Houston Marathon. Prior to this, she had never run even a half-marathon, so she knew she would need to start training a year ahead of time in order to be ready. She also asked her husband, who was a dedicated runner, to run alongside her the day of the marathon. When I asked her why she wanted Wes to run with her, she said she wanted him there to encourage her to continue when she reached the point in the race where she would want to quit.

The race went as planned, and about two-thirds of the way into it, she “hit the wall”. At this point, Wes encouraged her to keep going and continued to do so until the finish line of the race was literally in sight. They both finished the race! No records were set that day, but the personal satisfaction of finishing what she started has given Shannon a great sense of personal satisfaction. She later told me that had it not been for Wes, she probably would not have finished the race. Meanwhile, Wes told me the satisfaction he got from helping Shannon meet her personal goal was very satisfying to him, as well. Together, they were able to go far!

UTMB’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Selwyn Rogers, recently shared a quote that resonated with me. It’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Shannon’s vision to run and finish a marathon was supported by her strategy to surround herself by someone with whom she had a strong relationship and who she knew she could depend on for support during her journey to the finish line. Meanwhile, individual abilities like Wes’s endurance and supporting nature also contributed to their shared success in completing an amazing challenge together.

When we set out on a journey, whether it is in pursuit of something we wish to achieve individually or as a team, it’s easy to start off feeling very ambitious. But it’s also important to realize what will be required to sustain our progress. There are a couple of important things about success that Shannon’s experience illustrated to me: it’s important to prepare for our journey, whatever that may be, and recognize when we will need the help of others; and, if we don’t pace ourselves accordingly or don’t have the right support in place along the way, we may either run out of steam or feel like quitting before we reach our goal.

Discovering what we can accomplish as an individual (that is, our strengths and our talent) is something that we can use to support others on our team and encourage them along. Our own personal gifts can often help everyone go further and make the collective achievement even greater. Success is more than simply defining our goals and then determining how we can most rapidly achieve them with the greatest odds of success. It’s about constantly surrounding ourselves with amazing, talented people and building deep relationships with them along the way to success.

These are keys points to remember as we travel The Road Ahead!

Good is the Enemy of Excellence

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemA couple of weeks ago, I shared a little about my experience recovering from knee surgery. It has been a little more than two months since my journey began, my progress has been steady, and each day I have less and less pain. Immediately following the surgery, I was diligent in every aspect of my rehabilitation program, because I wanted to keep the swelling down, return to my full range of motion, and be able to walk without pain as soon as possible. Now that I am much more mobile and the swelling is minimal, I admit I have had a tendency to fill the time I should be doing my rehabilitation exercises with other things “I need to do”. After all, my range of motion and flexibility seem “good enough.” But is this really true?

There are many things I will want to do in the future that will require my full recovery from the surgery. Although I am in the process of healing, in the end I want to be in even better condition than I was before. If I don’t stick with my plan of care, my ability to do everything I want to will be limited. This means I must get back to aggressively rehabilitating my knee. In order to do this, I need to take the thought that I’m doing “just good enough” out the picture and settle for nothing short of full recovery of the use of my knee.

When I think about my journey so far, it feels a little like I’ve been running a marathon. At the starting line, I had been pumped and ready to go with my rehabilitation plan, my ambition was high and I was ready to cross the finish line in front of a cheering crowd on my new knee. But as the time passed and the miles accrued, I grew a little tired of doing the work. As I let myself slow down a little, it became tempting to let up even more—but if I were to stop, I’d be short of my destination. Looking back at how far I’ve already traveled, and looking at the little distance I have remaining, I realize I have to push through just a little longer to achieve true functional excellence.

Laurence McKinley Gould has said that “good is the enemy of excellence.” Others have modified the phrase to be, “good enough is the enemy of excellence.” Either way, being “good enough” implies that we are ready to accept some degree of mediocrity. As I think about my knee and rehabilitation in that light, it is clear to me that instead of charging ahead with my aggressive rehabilitation, I have recently chosen to travel the road of mediocrity. However, I know that I want to be on the road to excellence, not mediocrity!

Of course, this motto applies to many things in life, doesn’t it? Sometimes when we have a lot on our plates and we’re working on so many big projects/task, it can be tempting to feel that something is “good enough” so we can check that item off our to-do list and move onto the next task at hand. But if we truly want to achieve real excellence, we have to hang in there, giving it our all until we reach our goal.

At UTMB and in the health care industry, we realize the pace of progress can sometimes feel intense. We’re wrapping up the budget in a new system. Meanwhile, initiatives are underway to improve access and expand services for our patients. We’re building and renovating facilities, redesigning processes, optimizing the Epic EMR, and so much more. We’re even almost done planning our strategy for the coming year. Progress is continual, but every goal we set for ourselves is designed with one ultimate aspiration in mind: to be the best!

Excellent patient care and service starts with us. Our endeavor to be a patient-centered, highly reliable, value-driven organization; the first choice in the region for patients, physicians and employees; an exceptional value to payers and businesses; and a state and national leader in care delivery—well, it’s no small feat.

To be the best, we have to remember our passion for what we’re doing. When we start to feel like we’re doing just “good enough”, that’s when we need to remember why we began the journey. We each have different roles to play in achieving excellence as a health care provider, but whatever our part, whether we’re helping our patients, their families or our colleagues, we want to make a difference. And remember, you ARE making a difference! Don’t forget to look back and see how far we have come as an organization—everyone working together has made outstanding progress. Celebrate milestones. Take the time to recognize those involved who have helped make team accomplishments a reality.

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re in the midst of day-to-day tasks combined with long-term projects. It’s understandable that we may sometimes feel as though we’re in a “just run fast continuously” environment. But keeping the end goal on our radar screen and remembering why we are dedicated to excellence will go a long way towards ensuring we remain inspired to reach the finish line.

 “Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.”
― Ronnie Oldham

Finishing line

Nursing is an Art

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemUTMB celebrated National Nurses Day on Wednesday, May 6, with a number of events held throughout the day, including a Health Walk & Zumba, a blood drive, a nursing history display and more. One of the events I look forward to each year is the Showcase of Nursing Excellence, a presentation of research posters on a variety of topics. The posters are displayed in Café on the Court and on Wednesday, representatives from the project teams were present to share their findings with visitors.

As I walked the perimeter of the cafeteria, interacted with these nurses and learned from their posters, I was reminded that nursing is a fabric of many threads, all woven together for a single purpose: to provide the best possible care for patients. This made me think of the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which I’d had the opportunity to see four years ago in France.

The Bayeux tapestry was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half-brother Odo to celebrate victory at the Battle of Hastings. Photograph: David Levene

The Bayeux tapestry was commissioned by William the Conqueror’s half-brother Odo to celebrate victory at the Battle of Hastings. Photograph: David Levene

The tapestry is a band of linen nearly 230 feet long, consisting of nine panels sewn together to depict more than 70 scenes from the Norman Conquest, which culminated in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The tapestry is embroidered with 10 colors of yarn and four types of stitches. Its conservator considers it one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque period, and the fact that it has survived intact for over nine centuries is “a little short of miraculous—its exceptional length, the harmony and freshness of the colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.” What makes it even more fascinating is that the ending of the tapestry has always been missing.

In many respects, nursing is like a tapestry. The same year Florence Nightingale started the first school of nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1860, she published a 75-page booklet, “Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not.” Much of her work focused on hygiene, consideration for patients’ feelings, and the importance of a quiet environment for healing. Much of her advocacy is still relevant today—think of our work in hand hygiene, patient- and family-centered care, patient safety, and our efforts to make the hospital a beautiful, healing and serene environment. These are all aspects of patient care addressed 145 years ago by the founder of modern nursing.

It is within these contexts that nursing today has evolved. While our primary focus continues to be on patient needs and direct care of the patient, nurses today have become very specialized, often spending their career in a particular field of nursing and achieving specialty certifications or advanced degrees that set them apart in their knowledge and skill. And not all nurses today work at the bedside, as they did in the early days of nursing. Today, nurses can be found in settings ranging from clinical care to care management and research, they are found working in operating rooms, patient access centers (call centers), conducting nursing education, working in administrative roles, or even in information technology. There are countless environments in which they contribute to the growing body of nursing knowledge. Although the tapestry of nursing has many more “colors” than the Bayeux Tapestry, all nurses, whatever their roles, are brought together in a single, outstanding masterpiece through their passion for exceptional patient care.

Like the Bayeux Tapestry, our tapestry of nursing at UTMB also tells a story. The scenes it depicts include accounts of nurses who have gone above and beyond the expectations of their job to care for patients, and nurses who pitch in to help one another when the census is high in their department or unit. Our tapestry tells the stories of nurses who see a need and do what they can to meet it—the stories of compassion for patients and for one another is exceptional.

Imagine our tapestry. Each panel tells a story of remarkable patient care, innovation and teamwork. The first panel we observe depicts a story of the nurses on the Blocker Burn Unit, who cared for patients injured in a refinery fire near Beaumont earlier this year. Alongside the burn unit nurses were nurses from the PACU and SICU, who knew what needed to be done and helped provide additional staffing support and care for these critical patients.

Another section of the tapestry tells the story of a nurse who worked this past Christmas Eve. She also volunteered to work on Christmas Day, because she did not have family nearby and was not planning to travel home for the holidays. She wanted to stay and work so other nurses on the unit could be home with their families and children on Christmas Day.

And yet another panel of the tapestry shows a nurse in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, working to improve the procedure of radial artery catheterization in the left arm. In one scene, she is shown working at home, night after night until she creates a successful “arm board” for the procedure. She names the device after the physician who performs the procedure. In the next scene, the entire patient care team celebrates her invention, as it makes the procedure easier for the physicians and more comfortable for patients. Even MIT expresses interest in working with UTMB on perfecting the innovative support device.

Our nursing tapestry is filled with stories of innovation and creativity of nurses who provide outstanding care for our patients. Later today, I will attend the Silent Angel Awards (held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Research Building 6, Room 1.206), where I will hear more stories of nurses whose compassion, caring and advocacy have made a difference in the life of a patient, family or friend.

Like the Bayeux Tapestry, the principles of nursing founded by Florence Nightingale have remained intact, standing the test of time; and today the harmony of nurses and other team members working together to care for our patients remains a fresh and vibrant story. UTMB’s nursing tapestry has been sewn with exquisite workmanship by highly skilled nurses, guided by the spirit of Florence Nightingale.

Nurses are drawn to their profession so that they can give back to others and care for people in their greatest time of need. Like the Bayeux Tapestry, our nursing tapestry is not yet complete—but this is a good thing! We can look forward to thousands more stories that will exemplify the compassion, innovation and skill which intersect to create the caring environment of nursing at UTMB.

To all UTMB nurses, regardless of where you work within our system, we celebrate you and your achievements. Thank you for all you do to make patient care at UTMB exceptional.

nursing is an art

Staying the Course

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout two months ago, I underwent knee surgery. Today I am still in the process of recovering, but doing very well. The day I was finally off my crutches was an exciting day, and not long after that, I was able to walk completely on my own again. I still see my physical therapists, Patrick and Lindsay, here at UTMB on a regular basis. During a recent therapy session, Patrick told me that I am indeed making great progress, but now I needed to begin working on my gait.

I thought, “My gait? This is how I’ve walked my entire life!” He explained that because I was recovering from surgery, I had naturally compensated for my recovering knee by leaning a little to one side as I walked—I now needed to focus on centering my body more evenly above my hips, think about the amount of weight I put on each leg as I walked, and I should push off from my big toes. There were many instructions!

As I tried to remember each correction, I realized I actually had to concentrate to walk with proper posture and gait. Although I’m not entirely certain how I’ll change these long-time habits, I know I have to stay the course to improve so I can be in the best physical condition. It’s going to take time and effort!

After my therapy session, I attended a special presentation by Dr. David Henderson, primary author of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America Guidelines, who presented valuable information on the prevention and treatment of bloodborne pathogen exposures.

After the lecture, I walked back to my office from Levin Hall Auditorium, and I decided to stop in the cafeteria and quickly grab something for lunch. There, I saw Karen Chapman, director of Rehabilitation Services. I took the opportunity of our chance meeting to tell her that I could never have recovered so quickly without the help of all the wonderful physical therapy staff members, and that I am very grateful for the excellent care I have received.

Karen told me that she was very pleased I had a good experience, but she had noticed as she walked behind me after the lecture that my knee might be better, but now it was time to work on my gait. “Seriously?” I thought. “Why is everyone so interested in my gait?”

Back at my desk, I thought about my morning appointment and the conversation I had with Karen, and it reminded me that it is much harder to learn to undo something you’re used to than it is to learn something new. It is also easy to slide back into the old way of doing something if we don’t maintain our focus. For example, I noticed that when I concentrate only on walking properly, I can walk as I am supposed to walk; but as soon as I am distracted, I slide right back into my old gait.

In health care, we have so many changes hitting us all at once. No wonder people feel stressed and overworked. The pace of change is unlike any I have seen before. It makes sense that we have a hard time making real and sustained change. However, I know that if we prioritize our work and stay focused on the highest priorities, we will eventually reach the point where we will have real and sustained change. This is why everyone in the Health System is working very hard right now to narrow the list of new priorities for the coming year so we can remain focused on opening the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, making the new League City Hospital a success, and most of all, taking great care of our patients.

It is truly amazing to see how much progress we’ve made just in the last few years, and it is very exciting to know we’ll soon be caring for and supporting our patients and their families in these amazing new facilities. I remember when we first began planning for our new future, the many projects at hand seemed daunting. At the time, opening day of the new buildings seemed far away in the future.

From that point forward, everyone at UTMB understood that we would have to stay focused, and we had to remind ourselves regularly that achievements of this magnitude could only be made by taking the process one day at a time. And here we are today–it’s the first day of May 2015 and we are starting the move into the new Clinical Services Wing, preparing to open the new League City Hospital early this fall, and by next year at this time, we’ll be in the new Jennie Sealy Hospital.

While it seems that new initiatives arise just as previous initiatives are completed, there is something I can say with certainty: our accomplishments are remarkable. Every single individual at UTMB Health has played an important role in that success and should be proud of their contributions.

There is a quote by author Marabel Morgan: “Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other, a matter of time.” With steady focus and determination, new changes not only get easier with time, but before we know it, we have reached our goal, and we are better and stronger than before we began!

Thinking Beyond Boundaries

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn an earlier Friday Flash Report post, “What we really do for a living”, I shared my thoughts about what we really do for a living. What we actually do at work is much more than a job title, and much more than a job function. What we really do for a living is what motivates us—it’s what makes us want to give it our all.

After all, merely fulfilling the function of our job isn’t necessarily what helps us get through tough days, and it’s probably not why we’ll stick around for the long haul. Most of us need something more—more than just a paycheck or a job function to feel good about our jobs and more importantly, to feel a sense of purpose in our work. We need to feel meaning!

When we overcome challenges or solve problems, we know it means we’ve made progress; that feels good! And, we all enjoy opportunities to be creative and innovative, because it gives us a sense of ownership and pride—it feels good to know that we played a part in achieving something great.

Each and every job role at UTMB Health is important and helps us achieve our mission. Our patients and families count on us. And, just as I talked about in my recent posts on teamwork, our colleagues count on us to be there when they pass us the ball, because otherwise, we not only fail our team, but we fail our patients.

Questions we often reflect on, and should continue to reflect on every day, include: How can I help make a difference for a patient or their family member today, whether from the front line of patient care or from behind the scenes? How can I help make a colleague’s day brighter or their work go more smoothly, so they, too, can make a difference for our patients and their families?

Today, I want to reflect on a new question: how can we think beyond our boundaries to meet the needs of our patients, their families, our teams and colleagues? In a challenging health care environment, this will be a question we will face daily. It requires our creativity, innovation and a desire to gain new knowledge. We may not always have every resource we desire to meet the needs we wish we could fill. It means we will need to work together collaboratively within our teams and across departments and mission areas to successfully fill those needs. We must share our knowledge and expertise both with our UTMB colleagues and with those outside our organization, who share our commitment to excellence and passion for exceptional patient care.

Brilliant solutions are easy to see in hindsight. But, having the foresight to come up with one is something completely different. Smart, innovative ideas require unconventional thinking. Sometimes it is necessary to find creative solutions. Sometimes we must be the ones to find a better way.

I recently received some exciting news about how one of our employees, Rachel Murray, business manager for Transplant Services, worked together with the Office of Development to secure a $50,000 grant from the JLH Foundation, which was established according to the wishes of John L. Hern to support the financial needs of transplant patients and their families, and to promote the need for organ donation.

In her proposal, Rachel and the Development team described how the transplant process is one that bears considerable challenges for patients as well as their families. For many, the financial strain can be just as exacting as the physical toll of the procedure. With these new funds, UTMB will be able to help support transplant patients in need by assisting them with temporary housing, travel, prescription medication and transportation services while they are at UTMB for their procedure and aftercare.

Meanwhile, I received another note of good news, when I learned that Richard Foy, program manager in the Department of Neurodiagnostics (formerly the EEG/EP Lab), had an article published in the April 2015 issue of The Neurodiagnostic Journal, “PartnerSHIPS: Aligning Your Department with Administration for Smooth Sailing”.

His article describes the great work done in his area over the course of a two-year period that led to improved patient care outcomes. This achievement was made possible because of the remarkable collaboration that took place between neurodiagnostic technologists and hospital administration. The team worked together to identify barriers to success, improve processes, and identify ways to improve cost and utilization management. Additionally, they implemented a cross-training program among team members and identified professional development opportunities for staff so that they could not only meet operational and financial goals, but most importantly, increase the quality of care.

These are great examples of ways that innovative thinking and information sharing can help us identify new resources, improve patient care and create value, all of which result in new and better programs. Individuals may identify those exciting new ideas, but more times than not, it requires teamwork to achieve our goals. Without this sort of approach, we cannot be as successful and we cannot help others be successful.

I recently read something interesting, written by Jim Canterucci, an author who focuses on personal success. He says he strongly believes that “individuals possessing a habit of innovation, coming together, will make an organization more innovative.” Sound familiar? This is how we truly work together to work wonders!

thinking-outside-the-box

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.