You can’t serve from an empty vessel.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, we explored the importance of working together effectively on our teams and addressing challenges in a positive way, particularly as we embark on our journey towards achieving Best Care at UTMB. In my post, I mentioned the importance of stress management, because when we operate under stress, we may not always be able to contribute to our teams in a positive way, or we may create a situation where our environment could potentially become unsafe. Over time, stress can even begin to affect our health.

This reminded me of a talk I have given in the past to different groups of caregivers and leaders about the importance of self-care. I was often asked during these discussions about how I managed to effectively juggle family and career—how did I manage to “have it all”?

That question always made me laugh, because I am not sure anyone ever “has it all”.  What we do have is the outcome of the choices we have made in life that best suited us, our family, and our career. The outcome largely depends on how we set our priorities, and there really is no single answer for how we should go about doing this. We make the best decisions we can based on the knowledge we have at the time. In fact, I believe we have to approach most problems and solutions on a case-by-case basis, because our priorities can shift with time and depend on where we are in our current stage of life.

From a personal perspective, I realize managing stress isn’t always easy to do, especially when one has a great deal of dedication to those for whom they care and for the work they do. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I must carve out time in my schedule for myself to ensure I can continue putting my best foot forward.

When I have led my talk on self-care, a visual aid I often used was a Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottle, which I washed out and filled with rice. I would begin by talking about the many important priorities and obligations we have in our lives, and how in the process of putting so much of oneself into fulfilling these tasks and into caring for others, little things begin to drop off our radar when it comes to our own well-being. These little things can add up to have a significant impact.

As I continued the talk, I would shake a little rice out of Mrs. Butterworth as I went through the tasks of a “typical” day in the life of a career person with a family. Each time the responsibilities of the job or family required “action” on the part of Mrs. Butterworth, I would shake out a little rice.  I did this over and over in the talk until we got to the end of the “typical” day.  At this point, I shook and shook the bottle, but nothing came out—Mrs. Butterworth had expended all that she had by the end of the day with nothing left for herself to replenish or recharge.

I think that this is probably true of many of us. We love and are committed to what we do at work and the role we have within our family. However, after a busy day, we often forget to make time for ourselves and we have depleted our “reserves” over time. As a result, we can overlook important details, become forgetful or less productive, or feel irritable and incredibly stressed.

As we work together in a positive manner and navigate the challenges we encounter along the road to achieving Best Care, it is important to remember that in addition to being positive with others and maintaining a focused and optimistic outlook, we also need to take care of ourselves. No one can go on endlessly doing for others without also recharging their own batteries. There are some simple things we can do each day to help re-energize ourselves:

  • Outside of work, take time to look at your daily activities and determine which ones help you feel your best. Add these activities to your calendar. If you plan them, you are more likely to actually have time for them.
  • Check-in with yourself regularly to see if your routine needs to be changed. Sometimes we forget to ask ourselves the most obvious questions, like “Am I tired?” or “Am I happy?”
  • Go for quality not quantity. Even though you may like watching TV, and can spend several hours doing that, aren’t there other things that would be better for you?
  • It can be okay to say “no”. If you’re taking on so many commitments that you’re left feeling exhausted, it’s time to start prioritizing. Whether you decline an invitation permanently or simply take a rain check, saying “no” is sometimes exactly what your body needs.
  • Take a break. If you’re passionate about your job, you might feel reluctant to take a vacation. However, if you don’t take breaks, not only are you not taking care of yourself properly, but you may eventually end up undermining your performance. Working more does not mean you will maximize productivity. In fact, just the opposite is true.
  • In addition to feeling like you don’t have time for a vacation, having a hectic life can also give you a sense that you need to let your hobbies slide. Consider setting aside an hour a week that is only ever to be used for those activites.
  • People with busy lives can often forget just how valuable self-reflection can be. If you don’t spend time thinking about how you’re feeling about what you’re doing each day, you risk losing touch with what you really want from life (and reduce the chances you’ll feel grateful for all the good things in life). If you have 15 minutes of free time a day, then you have time to keep a journal. Reflecting on what happened in your day and how you’re feeling can help you understand you get a better sense of your needs.
  • Stay focused on the present moment. Practice mindfulness and use basic breathing exercises to get your mind into the right zone for creative visualization. Spend time listening to your favorite music, keep up with hobbies that help you feel fully in tune with your body (such as yoga, walking, swimming or cycling).
  • Finally, never underestimate the benefits of laughter! It releases a flood of feel-good endorphins that boost your mood and help you to relax. So, surround yourself with family and friends that make you laugh!

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs we continue our focus on achieving Best Care at UTMB Health, I would like to share a recent story of teamwork that occurred among our nursing staff.

Earlier this week, there was a patient who needed a PICC line in order to be discharged that day. (For those who may not be familiar with this term, a PICC line is a peripherally inserted central catheter that can be used for a prolonged period of time to intravenously deliver medications, such as long chemotherapy regimens or extended antibiotic therapy, or for administration of certain substances/nutrition).

Inserting a PICC line requires special training; however, there was not a nurse on duty who could perform the insertion. The staff made one quick call for help to Josette Armendariz-Batiste, director, patient care services and assistant chief nursing officer. A few hours later, Nurse Manager Robert Hastedt arrived on campus from Galveston with the equipment. Quickly following behind him was Alain Medrano-Safores, the PICC nurse who was able to insert the line and discharge our happy patient.

What the League City team initially thought was going to be a difficult challenge was easily and willingly taken care of by Josette, Robert and Alain. Now, Robert is working with ED Nurse Manager Ed Smith to discuss offering training to League City nurses so they, too, can perform PICC line insertions when needed.

No matter what role your team plays, whether you provide direct patient care or you work in support of that care, we all bring unique talents and expertise to our teams. Those skills enable us to work together to work wonders—it is through teamwork and collaboration that we find opportunities to engage others and break through barriers to delivering Best Care.

There are a few additional pearls of wisdom we can take away from this story:

  • It doesn’t require anything but the right attitude to make a big difference in patient care. Let’s demonstrate our passion for delivering Best Care to every patient, every time.
  • When we demonstrate respect for patients and our colleagues, we do what is right, not just what is easy—even if no one is looking.
  • We must be prepared to deliver Best Care and take the time necessary to make sure care is safe, timely, appropriate and effective.
  • We should remember to serve others first and to be good stewards of people and resources.
  • We demonstrate integrity by holding ourselves and one another accountable to delivering Best Care; we demonstrate it through honesty, trustworthiness, and dependability.
  • We show respect to one another by building trust and honoring our words through our actions.
  • We also demonstrate respect by treating patients, their loved ones and our colleagues with dignity and compassion.
  • We live the value of lifelong learning not only by pursuing knowledge, but by sharing our knowledge with others.
  • We should proactively seek solutions to improve processes and implement new ideas.

These are values that are part of the fabric of our culture. If we all make a conscious effort to put these simple principles into practice, we are certain to create a culture that always delivers the Best Care, every patient, every time.

“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.” ― Idowu Koyenikan

Fish don’t know they’re in water

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne day, two young fish were swimming along, and they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nodded at them and said, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish continued swimming for a bit. Eventually, one of them looked over at the other and asked, “What is water?”

This morning, I heard on the radio that tomorrow is National Fishing Day. But, that is not the occasion for this story. The reason I wanted to share this story is because the fish do not realize they are in water—they have always been surrounded by it.

The moral of the story: Sometimes, in order to realize one’s surroundings, it is necessary to step outside of that environment.

This is how it is with culture, also. Often, it is not until you travel outside of the area in which you live or change your routine that you realize you do actually live in a culture. Culture is most commonly defined as the way of life, beliefs and traditions of a particular group. However, culture can also exist in organizations—it is a way of thinking, behaving or working. And, we can become so used to a particular way of doing things, that it becomes very difficult to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.

In last week’s Friday Flash Report, I introduced a new initiative we are implementing at UTMB Health called “Best Care”. I mentioned that while we are currently performing very well in terms of patient satisfaction, we have a lot of work to do in other areas, like reducing readmissions that occur within 30 days of a patient’s discharge and reducing length of stay, mortality rates, hospital-acquired conditions and patient safety events.

I know that everyone at UTMB Health holds our values—compassion, integrity, respect, diversity and lifelong learning—in high regard, because they are part of our culture. I know you all believe in providing the best care and service. I also realize, however, that there are many pressures in health care today. We are caring for many patients and working in a fast-paced, highly productive environment. At the same time, we have already accomplished a great deal of work to make care safer by improving processes and implementing new technology. Taking it a step further, we have recently increased hand hygiene compliance to an outstanding rate of 98% in our inpatient units and nearly 100% across the board in our ambulatory locations. Nevertheless, Best Care is a big term that is made up of many specific efforts.

Therefore, we must not only focus on sustaining the improvements we have made, but we must continue to improve in order to provide Texas, the nation and the world with the finest health care possible. UTMB Health is a leader in many ways—so, let’s also lead the way by becoming one of the top health systems in the nation for providing Best Care.

To achieve our vision to be the best, we must wholeheartedly commit to always doing the right thing for the right patient, at the right time, in the right way. We must also acknowledge that there are still processes—and even general behaviors—within our current environment that need to change. However, we may not be able to recognize all of these different aspects right now, because we are surrounded by them.

What are the changes we will have to make to get to Best Care?

We must step back and see our care environment through the eyes of our patients and their loved ones. I know that many of you have been patients, and many of you have seen your loved ones hospitalized. Many of you have had excellent care experiences, and many of you have had experiences that were less than satisfactory. So you know from firsthand experience that receiving health care should never present an avoidable risk! Just as we trust that every safety measure has been taken when we board an airplane, our patients trust us to make sure the care we deliver is safe, and they trust that we will help them get better and stay well!

Even though we are working in a busy environment, we must be sure to take a little extra time to ensure safety, to accurately document the care we provide in the patient’s medical record, to run through our safety checklists, and engage our patients and their families in the plan of care. We must help them find the resources they need to take care of their health. To accomplish this, we must be supportive of one another and willing to stop each other when we see someone is not exercising patient safety. Inaction in the face of safety problems is taboo! We must also realize that if and when someone brings a concern to our attention, it is not directed at us as an individual; rather, it is being done with the intention of ensuring the Best Care for every patient, every time.

Recognizing the changes that need to be made and then making them will take some time, but the urgency to improve is immediate. It will require persistence and courage, because some of the changes we need to make may be counterintuitive to traditional processes. Best Care is everyone’s responsibility.

We are embarking on a journey, and there are many steps we must take to make it a success. Let’s not be like the two fish that do not know they are in water! Let’s commit to being aware of and understanding our environment and culture so that we can make the necessary changes to assure our patients receive the Best Care—every patient, every time.

best care logo-FINAL-OUTLINED


The Best Care: Every Patient, Every Time!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne of the things I like most about my office location in the new Jennie Sealy Hospital is that I have the opportunity to interact with our patients and employees more than ever before. I appreciate when people approach me and let me know about items that need attention or areas in which we can improve. I also enjoy the chance to hear firsthand about the good experiences people have had while receiving care at UTMB Health.

Today, for example, an employee approached me to tell me about a very positive experience their family member had while at UTMB. In fact, the experience was so positive that the patient will be switching all of their care over to UTMB. Isn’t that wonderful? I don’t know where the family member previously received their care, but it indicates to me that we are doing something right; it also proves that every interaction we have with our patients is meaningful and represents a chance to make a positive impression.

Many of us can say from personal experience that it is not lost on a patient when the care and treatment they receive is better than they have received elsewhere. It is important to remember that the impression they have of those care experiences is created by more than just the interactions they had with physicians and nurses.

Time and time again, when I hear raving reviews from patients, they describe their encounters with everyone they interacted with along the way. They remember the person by whom they were first greeted or the person who thanked them for choosing UTMB, the person with whom they spoke with on the phone, the person who gave them directions, and the person who transported them to their destination.

Often, they describe a technician who calmed their fears or someone who stayed to hold their hand during a procedure. They mention the person who delivered their meal, who cleaned their room or the person who helped them find the resources the needed. Their experience is also impacted by the teams who maintain the clinical equipment and facility infrastructure. Every single one of you makes a difference in the quality of patient care at UTMB Health.

In the months to come, you will hear a lot from me about a new initiative at UTMB we are calling “Best Care”. Some of you may wonder why I am so focused on improving the quality of our care we deliver at UTMB. After all, we receive many positive comments from our patients about their care, and our inpatient satisfaction scores have improved to the point where we are now in the top 20 among academic medical center peers. We are doing really well in terms of inpatient service and patient satisfaction.

However, the Best Care requires more than patient satisfaction, and it is more than being patient-centered. It means patients healed well and stayed well; it means they did not acquire a preventable infection or injury; it means that their care was safe, timely and effective. The Best Care means we consistently deliver care that meets these criteria, every single time and for every single patient.

Unfortunately, there are some very important areas for Best Care in which UTMB does not rank among the elite list of top 20 academic medical centers. In fact, we are solidly stuck in the middle in areas such as efficiency, mortality, readmissions, hospital-acquired conditions and patient safety events. Because we want to deliver only the very Best Care at UTMB, we will need to make significant progress in these areas over the course of the coming year. At the same time, we must also sustain our patient satisfaction scores in order to move into the top tier of academic medical centers. That is my goal. In fact, it will be my singular focus from now on.

The distance we must make up to achieve this top tier ranking is considerable, and we are working toward this at a time when all other academic medical centers are also focused on improving. Some of you who have already learned about our Best Care initiative have asked me whether or not I think we should allow ourselves more time to reach our goal. Others have told me that they do not think it is possible to achieve this much improvement in a mere fourteen months. While I know that this is an aggressive target and it will take our intense focus throughout the year to achieve this goal, I ask you, “Is it all right to deliver ‘okay’ care?”

Think about it. Imagine you have a patient sitting in front of you right now—would you feel good about telling them that they will receive “okay” care while they are in one of our UTMB Health hospitals or clinics? Or, would you rather tell the patient and family that they will receive the Best Care when they are at UTMB Health? Shouldn’t Best Care always be our goal? It certainly is mine!

Some of you may be thinking, “I can’t make an impact on Best Care, because I don’t take care of patients.” Although you may not touch a patient, we all impact the patient’s care, their experience, their overall impression of UTMB Health, and in some cases, even their safety. Whether we work in Information Services, Business Operations & Facilities, Revenue Cycle, Human Resources, Materials Management, Clinical Departments, we are part of the patient experience.

Starting today, I want everyone to commit to the Best Care: Every Patient, Every Time! Whether you work in support of patient care in in one of our five hospitals—Jennie Sealy, John Sealy, Angleton Danbury, League City or Hospital Galveston, or in one of our correctional managed care, regional maternal child health, adult or pediatric primary and specialty care clinics, commit today to delivering the Best Care!

This is a big commitment for everyone, but it is one that we must make. From today forward, this will be the focus of my meetings, the focus of my rounds, the focus of our Friday Flash reports, and the emphasis of Friday Focus Newsletter. I look forward to the progress we will make as an organization and to the role YOU will play in assuring that we deliver the Best Care to Every Patient, Every Time!

Our Focus:

  • Efficiency: Decrease length of stay and direct cost as compared to our peers
  • Mortality: Eliminate all preventable deaths (i.e., early sepsis detection, clinical documentation improvement and coding, systems improvements, etc.)
  • Effectiveness: Accelerate reduction in 30-day readmissions and Emergency Department throughput
  • Safety: Eliminate all preventable patient safety events (i.e., postoperative sepsis; perioperative hemorrhage / hematoma; pressure ulcers; and central line-associated blood stream infections, etc.)
  • Maintain performance in patient-centeredness and equity

Do right. Do your best. Treat others as you want to be treated.

—Lou Holtz


Oh Baby, It’s a New Hospital!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemTomorrow we celebrate another historic moment at UTMB Health. On Saturday, June 4 at 8:00 a.m., we will open the new UTMB Health League City Hospital!

Everyone at UTMB has worked very hard this year, and wonders have been worked, indeed! It has been an incredible year of accomplishments, but without the teamwork and dedication that took place among UTMB employees, we could not have achieved such success. From new clinics to the opening of Jennie Sealy Hospital, from the new innovations our employees are developing daily to the outstanding care you deliver to our patients and their families, I think we can all unanimously agree—it takes a village!

The new 150,000 square foot facility is a welcome addition to the League City community. There are many UTMB patients in the area who already see UTMB physicians, but prefer to be hospitalized in the area, as well. Now, they can receive the care they need close to home, whether in our specialty clinics on the campus, our League City Urgent Care Clinic, or in the new 24-hour emergency department with full diagnostic capabilities. For patients who are admitted to the new hospital for an overnight stay following the delivery of a child or surgical procedure, they can now remain close to home and to their loved ones as they recuperate.

Meanwhile, for our patients who may require more acute care or who simply need access to primary care and services so they can stay well long into the future, they will also have continued access to a full complement of services throughout the UTMB Health System.

UTMB’s ongoing growth is possible because we have built a reputation for providing quality, patient-focused care, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to support the health care needs of the League City community. I would like formally thank everyone who has contributed to the activation and opening of League City Hospital for our patients in the area. Congratulations to all on the opening of our new hospital!


Writing Our New Chapter

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast weekend, I had the great privilege of returning to my hometown to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Illinois-Springfield graduation ceremony. This was the largest graduating class in the history of the school, so it was a truly momentous occasion for the university as the graduates walked across the stage to receive their bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Many of these graduates were the first in their family to earn a degree, while many others would now begin the career of their dreams.

On the flight home, I had a chance to reflect on the events of the weekend and the incredible experience I had. I was moved by the historic significance of the university’s growth, as well as the accomplishments of the students and the growth they had personally experienced. In many ways, their growth is similar to what we have experienced at UTMB Health since Hurricane Ike.

It was only a few days after the storm that we reopened the doors of our mainland clinics. Months later, we reopened John Sealy Hospital on our Galveston campus, as well as TDCJ Hospital Galveston. From that moment forward, we began a journey of recovery and renewal. Since then, we have experience tremendous growth. In time, what began as a chain of small clinics scattered about the mainland has flourished. Now, we have a comprehensive system of beautiful, spacious, centrally-located clinics. Today, we are a health system ready to meet the primary and specialty care needs of the Southeast Texas region. In the past two years alone, we have acquired a community hospital in Angleton Danbury, opened Jennie Sealy Hospital in Galveston, and in just a two weeks, we will open League City Hospital to become a five-hospital system.

In the same way I was welcomed at the commencement ceremony by the faculty, administration and students, UTMB has been welcomed into the communities we serve. From Alvin to League City, Webster, South Shore Harbor and beyond, businesses and community members have welcomed our clinicians and staff to their neighborhoods. This region is one of the fastest growing in the nation, but previously, there was limited access to physicians. Now, people in these communities have access to the care and medical expertise they need to stay healthy—and it is all close to home.

When UTMB Health opens League City Hospital on Saturday, June 4 at 8:00 a.m., it will be another historic moment for our organization. It is the first hospital we have built on the mainland, and the staff members who will work there are already trained and preparing the hospital to care for patients. Our colleagues in Materials Management, Business Operations & Facilities, Campus Security, Information Services, Purchasing and so many other areas are busily working so we can open on schedule. And as always, our colleagues in Environmental Services are working hard to ensure the facility is sparkling when we open our doors.

Opening League City Hospital will be different from opening Jennie Sealy Hospital. This time, we will not be moving patients; instead, our patients will come to us. Initially, the first patients will come to us through the emergency room over the weekend. Then, on Monday, June 6, we will begin admitting patients from our local clinics to the new League City Hospital, many of whom will need surgical procedures that require a brief hospital stay. The new hospital will be a welcome addition to the League City community, because there are so many UTMB patients in the area who already see UTMB physicians, but prefer to be hospitalized in the area, as well. Now this is possible! This is an exciting moment for UTMB Health!

In my commencement speech, I advised the new graduates that they were about to embark on a new chapter in their lives—the pages of this new chapter were blank, ready for them to write their own story from this point forward—this was to be their own story and no one else’s. As I thought about the words I imparted to them, I realized how much those same words correspond to our growth at UTMB Health.

I reminded the students that they alone are in charge of shaping their story, and so is UTMB. Just as I reminded them to remain focused on their goals and to not allow themselves to be swept off course by temporary events or distractions, UTMB Health is what it is today because we decided to shape our future, and not let the events of the moment shape us.

Just as I told them to move forward boldly and to pay no mind to the naysayers they encounter, we at UTMB did not listen to the naysayers who said it was not prudent to rebuild UTMB on Galveston Island. If we had listened, there would be no League City Campus, either!

Just as I told them that it is okay to step out of their comfort zones and take a few chances, we at UTMB stepped out of our comfort zone and we took a leap of faith. There are so many times when the seemingly impossible becomes possible through hard work, determination and resilience. I remember the physicians who supported UTMB by splitting their practices between the island and the mainland to create a new set of patients who could benefit from our exceptional care. I think about the many people who spent countless hours planning the new clinics, getting them ready to open, and delivering UTMB’s great care with exceptional compassion.

I know there were times when many of us felt frustrated and less than optimistic about the future. This reminds me of the words of Ralph Marston, a motivational speaker, who said that when we feel like we are ready to walk away from something, it is then that we must “redirect the substantial energy of our frustration and turn it into positive, unstoppable determination”—that is when our experience transforms into something good.

The new League City Hospital is a symbol of the experience and determination of the UTMB faculty members, clinicians, staff and administrators who, on September 14, 2008, decided to rebuild UTMB Health. In the depths of despair, UTMB stayed true to its tripartite mission to educate future health professionals, discover life-saving cures, and deliver exceptional care to patients. We rebuilt UTMB stronger and more resilient than ever. Let’s take a moment to stop and celebrate what we all have accomplished!

If I bought a thank you card to match the size of my appreciation, it wouldn’t fit in your mailbox!

As we approach the end of Nurses’ Week & Health System Week, I want to remind each of you of how important you are to UTMB Health. Our success as a healthcare provider depends on the positive interactions you have each day with our patients and visitors, your willingness to do what is in the best interest of the patient, and your unrelenting quest to deliver the best care to our patients.

Last week, I had a firsthand opportunity to witness the wonders you work every day when one of my family members became a patient. The week became one of comparison and contrast. Our experience started out at another hospital about an hour away. Without going into the details of that experience, I will say that there was a point where my family member wondered out loud if the nurses, technicians, doctors and other staff even cared about the people who were there to receive care.

I asked my family member why they felt that way, and I wholeheartedly agreed with their response. In a waiting room jammed with people, there was no communication. Staff sat around and visited or looked at their phones and never communicated with the patients who were waiting to be seen. It took almost six hours to get to the exam room from the waiting room. During that time, the only communication we had with anyone was when someone from our family actively went up to the desk to ask when we might be seen. Each time the answer was the same: “I have no idea. It’s busy tonight.” It was true—the place was so busy, patients were being placed in rooms that had not even been cleaned. In short, it truly seemed like no one cared about the patients or even cared about their job.

The next morning, we chose to come to UTMB, and in contrast, my family member’s experience was light-years apart from the experience of the night before. After we got the patient settled into the room, several nurses, physicians and residents came into the room to get things started. My family member commented to me that they were so relieved to be at UTMB: “It is obvious that they really care about their patients. I always feel well cared for and safe when I am here.”

Naturally, I could not help but wonder if the fact that my name was “Sollenberger” was part of the reason for this service, but as I watched other patients in the area, what I witnessed makes me feel certain that the staff members here treat all patients alike—with respect, compassion and concern for their privacy and safety.

To me, it is odd that a patient would even have to be concerned about whether or not other people are eavesdropping in on what they are telling their caregivers. It is odd to me that a patient would ever have to worry about their safety while in the hospital. It is concerning to me that a patient should have to be concerned about acquiring an infection from dirty rooms, soiled linens, or from people entering their room without washing their hands. It is concerning to me that a patient would have to worry about whether or not they have a voice in their care.

At the other hospital, all of these concerns were valid. At UTMB, they were not. At UTMB, each person treated our patient with the utmost courtesy and attention. Each person who came in contact with our patient followed the proper protocols for patient identification, each person performed hand hygiene, and each person explained in detail what to expect and asked if the patient had any questions. Each interaction with a nurse or physician made it clear that we were at the center of their work and decision-making. As support staff interacted with the patient—whether when cleaning the room, transporting the patient, or delivering meals—it was clear that they genuinely cared about the patient and took their role in the care process very seriously.

Fortunately, we were able to leave the hospital last Friday. We are so relieved that our family member is on the mend. However, we simply cannot forget the feeling of care and compassion that each person with whom we interacted demonstrated as they went about doing an exceptional job. What will not leave us is the sense of confidence we had in the total care experience. It simply was the BEST!

So, to every person who cares for or interacts with our patients, THANK YOU! Thank you for blending compassion with your care. Thank you for showing respect for the patient, regardless of circumstances. Thank you for stopping to listen, even when you are busy beyond belief. But most of all, thank you for treating your work at UTMB as more than a job or a paycheck. You are setting the bar high for all healthcare professionals in the Greater Houston area. You are making UTMB known as a place where everyone truly works together to work wonders.

HAPPY HEALTH SYSTEM WEEK! HAPPY NURSES’ WEEK! And because I cannot say it enough, thank you!

Thank You

Thanks for all you do…Happy Nurses & Health System Week!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemToday marks the beginning of 2016 Nurses & Health System Week. At UTMB, we celebrate this week each year in appreciation of everything our Health System employees do to deliver excellent patient care and to demonstrate compassion for our patients and their loved ones.

National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6 and ends on May 12 (Florence Nightingale’s birthday), and National Hospital Week (May 8-14) celebrates hospitals and the women and men who support the health and wellbeing of their communities through dedication and compassionate care from the heart.

Whatever your role, as a member of the healthcare team, you will touch a life or a life will touch yours every day. In fact, a patient recently said to me, as he compared his experience at UTMB in the new Jennie Sealy Hospital to another leading hospital: “I feel like people truly care about me here.”

This week is an opportunity to thank all of the dedicated individuals – physicians, nurses, therapists, engineers, food service workers, volunteers, administrators and so many more – for your contributions. I would like to thank our colleagues in nursing, who have organized a series of events that will occur beginning today and continue throughout the coming week to thank our employees in the Health System and in Correctional Managed Care (CMC) for the work they do each day.

Events include a breakfast for the Health System and CMC, special events, cake and ice cream (in honor of Florence Nightingale’s birthday), and a blood drive. All week long, executive leadership will also visit different units and clinics as they “walk a mile” in the shoes of our nursing staff. Click here to view the schedule of events.

I hope you will enjoy the activities they have planned that celebrate and recognize YOU for the incredible work you do each and every day on behalf of UTMB!



Caring Begins Where Skill and Compassion Meet

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSince we officially opened Jennie Sealy Hospital, the lobby has been bustling with activity around the clock. I am proud to say that we have a wonderful group of staff working at the front of the hospital, all of whom I have met. They are present at the front desk and driveway, greeting our patients and visitors with a smile, answering questions, and helping people get to their destinations in the hospital and around the Galveston campus.

One day, however, I noticed an individual from Hospital Transportation Services whom I had not yet met. I introduced myself and learned that this gentleman was Justin Sanchez, and he has worked at UTMB for about two years. Most often, I see Justin in the driveway assisting patients and visitors in and out of their vehicles and into the hospital. I have noticed that he stays very busy. I also noticed that even when he is not actively assisting someone, he is almost always on his feet.

As Justin and I talked, I mentioned to him that in John Sealy Hospital, we have a podium and a chair for transportation staff to sit and rest while they wait for the next person to arrive. It also helps guests know that the person behind the podium is a staff member who can assist them. I let him know that we would arrange to have the same set up for him and the other members of the transportation team in Jennie Sealy Hospital; however, he did not seem too concerned about having a place to sit.

“I really don’t mind,” he replied. “I just want patients to be able to see me and know I’m here, ready to help them.”

His statement stayed with me. For many people who come to our hospital, Justin will be the first person they encounter. I truly appreciate his attitude toward greeting and helping our guests. It is a mindset I hope we will all emulate! I believe this sort of an approach to helping our patients and visitors sets the stage for the welcoming, caring atmosphere all people should experience when they visit any UTMB campus or clinic location. I hope we all will follow Justin’s example to be visible so our patients and visitors will know we are here to help them!

After all, caring begins where skill and compassion meet!

 Justin Sanchez (Hospital Transportation Services), Donna Sollenberger (EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System), and Cindy Jones (Hospital Transportation Services)
Justin Sanchez (Hospital Transportation Services), Donna Sollenberger (EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System), and Cindy Jones (Hospital Transportation Services)


We Never Know Whose Lives We’ll Touch

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen it comes to the size of the planet, I’ve always found two things fascinating. First, it’s actually a small world, because you never know who you are going to meet or encounter. Secondly, we never know how our connections and relationships will have an impact on our lives and the lives of others. These phenomena rang true for me as we officially opened Jennie Sealy Hospital for our patients and their loved ones on April 9, 2016.

The Earth’s circumference (the distance around the equator) is 24,901 miles; its surface area is two hundred million square miles (nearly 71 percent of that is covered by water); and the world’s population is nearly 7.5 billion people. Yet, although the planet is so large, it seems as though we will inevitably run into someone we know, whether we are traveling across the state or across the globe—even when we are not planning anything with them.

My husband has always been fascinated by how often this happens to me during our travels. It began when we lived in Illinois and would often visit Chicago. It seemed that on every trip, I would cross paths with someone I knew from one of my health care jobs or professional associations. As my circle of relationships enlarged, so did the distance we traveled where I would see someone I knew. It happened so often, my husband started teasing me about it, but I would just laugh and tell him he was exaggerating.

After a trip to London, however, I started thinking that perhaps he was right. We were standing in the middle of Heathrow Airport waiting for our luggage to come off the carousel when I heard someone call out, “Donna Sollenberger!” I turned around and immediately recognized the individual as an old friend. I had not seen him in 25 years! As my friend and I embraced, I could see my husband behind secretly mouthing, “I told you so.”

Then, some years ago, my kids taught me a game called “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. This game, which is based on the premise that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart, supposedly began after two college students saw an interview in which actor Kevin Bacon had commented that he had worked with just about everyone in Hollywood or someone who had worked with them. As they explored the veracity of this statement with others, the conversation spread, eventually turning into a widely-known game.

The game proceeds like this: someone in the group provides a name, and the group has to connect that individual with Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible. Here is an example, using Elvis Presley:

  • Elvis Presley was in “Change of Habit” (1969) with Edward Asner.
  • Edward Asner was in “JFK” (1991) with Kevin Bacon.

We tried it several times, and we generally found it worked. We are all connected in some way, even if it is over many degrees of separation. I think the same is true of health care.

So, where am I headed with this? Well, this past weekend as we moved our adult patients from the medical/surgical and intensive care units in John Sealy Hospital to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, the very first patient we transported that day had completed his medical residency at UTMB. The very last patient we transported had once been a UTMB faculty member. By whatever chance this had occurred, I could not help but consider the significance.

As I traverse the 765,000 square foot Jennie Sealy Hospital, I think of the many people who helped plan, design, build and activate this facility. I see the names of so many individuals and employees who made contributions toward the construction of this building. I think of the renovations currently under way in John Sealy Hospital and the future opening of the League City Hospital in June 2016. I wonder whether or not the family of the first John Sealy* could have ever envisioned how much the gift they gave to Galveston Island would flourish when they first established John Sealy Hospital in 1890.

I also think about UTMB’s history and all of the individuals who not only made this organization what it is today, but who helped pave the way for its future. I think of the individuals who will care for our patients in our hospitals, both today and in years to come. I think of the employees at UTMB who help make exceptional patient care and education possible through the support they provide. I think of tomorrow’s medical professionals who will train in our facilities—UTMB’s reach extends across the state and around the globe as our trainees and graduates work wonders near and far.

Whether you care for our patients in one of our hospitals or clinics or you work in a setting that supports our research, education and patient care missions, I hope you feel connected to the story of UTMB and the impact you will have on the lives of our patients and their families, both today and in the future. We never know whose lives will be touched! For me, this sense of connection to the past and to the future was brought about by the presence of these two patients last weekend.

“In life, we leave a legacy to our children, we leave our footprints wherever we travel, and we leave our fingerprints on every heart we touch.” ― Pat Patrick

The original John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

The original John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

*The first John Sealy was born in Pennsylvania. In 1846, having heard stories of the new State of Texas, he moved to Galveston to seek his fortune. Galveston was the principal seaport and commercial center of Texas where he prospered in banking, shipping, railroads and cotton businesses. John Sealy married Rebecca Davis and they had two children, John and Jennie. He died in 1884. In his will, he left $50,000 for a charitable purpose in Galveston to be decided by his executors.

In 1881 Texas voters had decided to locate the University of Texas Medical Department in Galveston, but by the time of John Sealy’s death it had not become a reality. His executors, wife Rebecca and brother George, decided to build a hospital in Galveston with the bequest. The Sealy family paid the additional costs of construction not covered by the bequest and the John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

The Sealy family decision to build a hospital swayed the State finally to build the medical school in Galveston. Thus began the Sealy family 150-year legacy of health care involvement in Galveston.

For more on the history of The Sealy & Smith Foundation, click here PDF.