Compassion is a verb.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne year during the holidays in Wisconsin, I realized I had forgotten to get a greeting card to give to my father-in-law on Christmas morning, which my family celebrates. So my son, Blake, and I went to the local drugstore to find one.

While we were in the greeting card aisle, I noticed another lady who was also looking for a card. She reached the cashier just before we did. Standing in line behind her, we overheard her conversation with the cashier.

“That’ll be $5.99,” he said.

“Oh, I think it is only $1.99,” she replied.

The cashier double-checked the price. “No, it’s $5.99,” he said.

“But it was on the $1.99 rack. It’s for my daughter,” she replied.

The cashier then said, “No ma’am, I’m sorry. It must have been misplaced on the rack. It doesn’t matter where it was, it’s $5.99.”

Clearly disappointed, the woman exited the line to replace the card on the rack. My heart truly went out to her. After I had completed my transaction, my son and I waited outside of the store. I just had this feeling that I needed to do something to help, because I could tell she couldn’t afford the card. When she came outside, we handed her a twenty dollar bill.

“Please, go buy the card you wanted for your daughter. Get her a small gift.”

I don’t know if I can really describe my emotions at that moment, as the lady’s eyes welled up with tears. I just knew I had to do something to help this person in need.

I remembered this experience because we are in the midst of the holiday season, but I wondered if there was something special we could all do for someone else—and not only during the holidays. Every day is a day for practicing kindness, compassion and generosity. We have opportunities daily to help our patients and visitors—and it doesn’t have to cost a cent.

Recently, Laura Amos, a patient care technician in the Galveston Recovery Room, stopped to help a patient who was walking with her IV pole in a main corridor of Jennie Sealy Hospital. The patient looked as if she was about to pass out. Laura noticed this immediately and asked the patient if she was okay. When the patient replied that she felt weak and dizzy, Laura stayed with the patient while another employee got a wheel chair. Then, Laura assisted the patient into the chair and helped take her to transportation, who escorted her to her room.

We can always offer something of ourselves to someone else at any time, whether it is our talent or a skill, a little moral support, or a word of kindness. After all, “Generosity does not come from wealth. Wealth comes from the flowers of kindness and love,” says physician and author, Dr. Debasish Mridha.

Laura not only demonstrated compassion for this person, but by being observant and proactively interacting with this patient, she also helped prevent a potential injury to the patient if she had fallen. This is a wonderful example of Best Care, and a wonderful example of how, by simply being aware of those around us in our hospitals and clinics, we have a real invitation to brighten someone’s day.

“The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humor and style and generosity and kindness.” ~ Maya Angelou

Your silence gives consent. (Plato)

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemMy passion for history began in middle school. In fact, much of my elective reading has always been about important historical events or the lives of famous people. Most of all, I really enjoy reading about the lives of presidents. Given the fact that I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, it probably would not surprise you to find out that I love to read about Abraham Lincoln. As a child, I grew up visiting Lincoln’s home and tomb, the Old State Capitol where the Lincoln/Douglas debates were held, and New Salem where a young Abraham Lincoln studied law by candlelight. Perhaps it also is not surprising that I love to read about President John F. Kennedy. When President Kennedy was shot, I was in middle school. That day was a defining moment in my youth. Even now, I read as much as I can about these two presidents.

Traveling a couple of weeks ago, I had forgotten my book. (I have a Kindle, but I still love to turn pages!) In the airport, I saw a paperback book called “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot”, written by Bill O’Reilly. I decided I would buy it, and I read it on the plane. To me, the best part of the book was about John F. Kennedy’s time in the Oval Office. In particular, I was fascinated by the account of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs.

In April of 1961, President Kennedy had made the decision to authorize the invasion of Cuba. First, however, he wanted to hear from his top advisors to determine if this was the best course of action. At the time, his Secretary of State was Dean Rusk, an Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar who had served as a chief of war plans during World War II. He was experienced in organizing covert missions similar to this.

Dean Rusk had not been President Kennedy’s first choice as Secretary of State, and Secretary Rusk knew that. Consequently, he was not confident of his relationship with the new President. In a time when the President truly needed his advice, Secretary Rusk felt he should remain silent, despite the fact that he had shared with others that this operation was misguided and that it had a “snowball’s chance in hell” of succeeding.

Secretary Rusk was not the President’s biggest problem. His largest problem was that not one of his advisors was willing to give him their advice, because it was contrary to what the President wanted at that time. As a result, Kennedy gave the go-ahead on April 14, 1961 to proceed with the invasion. Almost immediately, the invasion was a disaster. Fidel Castro, who had recently overthrown Cuba’s American-backed president, had learned about the attack in advance from informants; meanwhile, the operation of attack did not go as planned. As a result, the Bay of Pigs invasion failed, and after less than a day of fighting, 110 men on the American side were killed and nearly 1,200 were taken prisoner.

This story resonated with me because perhaps the outcome of all of this could have been avoided if the people surrounding the President had been willing to speak up. But when they did not, many people paid the price for that decision.

Sally Hogshead, an author and professional speaker, once stated, “You will not make a difference by being quiet. You will make a difference by being heard.”

As a leader, I want people to challenge my thinking. It may not change my decision, but good decisions are made when all perspectives are heard. This does not mean the leader will always change his or her mind, but it does mean that all voices have been heard and considered.

Best Care requires that we speak up when we see something that can or may result in patient harm, and it requires that the person receiving the message listen carefully to what is being said. At UTMB Health, we are dedicated to serving others and improving the patient and family experience. We achieve this through demonstrating respect for our patients, their loved ones and our colleagues. When we respectfully offer constructive feedback, we do so with the intent to offer information that calls attention to a problem or prevents a potential problem. The objective is to have a conversation that leads to the best solution or course of action. Whether you are the individual receiving the feedback or the person delivering the message, maintaining a spirit of mutual respect and learning is of paramount importance.

As the person speaking up, we need to remember the following:

  • Whenever possible, convey your positive intent by choosing a good time to talk, when the other person can listen and respond thoughtfully. In instances when you are caring for patients, you may have to speak up at that moment in order to avoid patient harm.
  • Let the person know that you respect his or her position/role, and that is why you are willing to share this feedback. It is always best to discuss concerns directly with the other individual—avoid communicating through a third party. Take care with your words—focus on the behavior or action that needs improvement, not on the person. It is helpful to link the behavior or action to patient safety or other important business needs.
  • Maintain an objective tone. Listen objectively, as well.
  • Try to keep your message brief and concise. When possible, consider picking out one or two significant consequences of the action and discussing them.
  • Be sure to include specific descriptions as part of the conversation. Facts generally point toward a solution.
  • Leave the responsibility for action with the other person. If there is still the possibility for patient harm and the appropriate action is not taken, escalate the concern immediately.
  • Always thank the other person for their time, and ask them to reflect on the message, if that is possible.

As the person receiving the message, we need to make sure that we:

  • Focus on the content of the message, not on the person.
  • Realize and be appreciative that someone is making sure every action taken is being done in the best interest of our patients.
  • Listen calmly and attentively. Try not to plan a response while the other person is speaking (we are not really listening when we are busy thinking of how we will respond).
  • Listen with an open mind and acknowledge the other person’s concerns.
  • Ask questions to confirm your understanding.
  • Try not to take offense—instead, welcome suggestions.
  • Maintain an awareness of your feelings, but also try to suspend judgment or reaction until you have had time to consider the suggestions that were offered. Truly consider what is being said.
  • Respond respectfully, and thank the other person for expressing their thoughts or concerns.

The story of Secretary Rusk and President Kennedy is a great reminder of why every member of the team must be willing to speak up and be heard. It is only when we do this that we will achieve Best Care!

“If we remain silent, we are guilty of complicity.” – Albert Einstein

One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemBefore I share the patient letter I recently received, I wanted to begin with a story. Written by Loren Eiseley, I thought it was a great example of how each of you, through your everyday service and care of our patients and their loved ones, make a big difference. Although you may not always immediately see or hear about how the work you did impacted someone else’s life, your efforts often carry a significance far greater to others than you may realize.

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Each day, when you do something special for a single patient, for all of our patients as a whole, or even in support of a colleague, it matters. The letter that follows, which was written by a patient’s wife, provides a powerful example of how one of our employees, Care Manager Mary Jacinto, made this sort of tremendous difference in a family’s life.

As you know, a key strategy of UTMB’s Best Care initiative is to manage our patients’ care, not only while they are in the hospital, but also after they are discharged. For many patients, this is to help prevent readmission (for example, the care manager may follow up to make sure the patient is taking their prescribed medications); for others, the goal is to help patients transition to another level of care or to help them find the resources they need to continue their care plan once they’re home. This letter tells the story of how, through Mary’s actions, she helped save a patient’s life:

“We want you to know how Mary Jacinto helped save my husband’s life. Back in September 2015, Michael [patient’s name is used with permission] got sick and was admitted to UTMB Galveston. Michael had cirrhosis with ascites, an enlarged spleen, an aortic aneurysm, hepatitis C and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). After Michael was discharged, this is where Mary came into our lives as Michael’s Care Management Nurse.

We didn’t have insurance and little money. Mary got Michael lined up with the Freeport Clinic, so he could get the medical attention he needed. He wasn’t getting better and needed further medical attention. Mary used her resources and got Michael set up as a casebook study at UTMB.

In May 2016, we found out Michael had liver cancer and without a transplant, he only had a year to live. We still did not have insurance. I had tried several times to get insurance and wasn’t successful. Mary took the time to sit with me, and we did a conference call with the Health Market Place. We got insurance, effective June 1, 2016.

Then, Mary got Michael set up with the Liver Transplant Clinic. On August 8, 2016, Michael got a liver transplant at UTMB Galveston. He is doing fine and is very thankful to be alive. Because of Mary’s persistence, perseverance and caring ways, Michael is alive today! She is a very special person! We call her our angel! We want Mary to get the recognition she deserves.”

This is just one example, but this sort of amazing care takes place every day at UTMB. I can go on and on with examples of how individuals and teams across UTMB contribute to Best Care. In fact, just the other day, after a power outage in League City, individuals from Clinical Equipment Services, Nursing Services and many other areas discovered and preempted a potential patient safety issue with back-up batteries and emergency power. They then immediately took action to resolve the problem in a single evening. Some of the individuals who helped weren’t even on schedule that night, or they came in early the next morning to ensure everything had been addressed. To me, this sort of teamwork is outstanding and it proves that often, it is not one person or one action that makes the difference; it is the collective efforts of many who are working together toward a common goal.

As we continue the Best Care initiative and receive feedback from groups across the organization, leadership has learned that many people still aren’t sure how they impact Best Care. Although Best Care is largely focused on some areas for improvement that are difficult to impact for those who do not deliver direct patient care, I want to emphasize that each of you plays a very important role to the overall Best Care initiative. When it comes to helping patients navigate the health care system, ensuring they have a positive experience, or making sure needed supplies are delivered and facilities are operational, through your collective service, you make an impact.

Never doubt that one person’s efforts can make a difference. It did for Michael and will for so many others.


November 11 is Veteran’s Day.

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Save

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is a proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Have you have been in a position at some point in your life when you had to rely on the generosity of others? I would guess that most of us have. I know it has been true for me.

When I was 15 years old, my father unexpectedly lost his job. With three children and a wife to support, he was devastated and very worried about our family’s future. Fortunately, two things happened which made it possible for our family to transition through this challenging time until he got a new job.

First, my parents decided that my mother should return to work. In the mid-1960’s, a mother working outside the home was not the social norm. Nevertheless, my mom had been an exceptional legal secretary before she decided to stay home to focus on raising me, and eventually, raising my brother and sister. Fortunately, she had stayed in touch with her former employer during this time. So when my dad lost his job, my mom made an appointment to meet with her former agency to see if they had any job openings. Fortunately, they were hiring, and they offered her a job on the spot.

I remember there were tears of relief when my mother came home to say she would start working the following Monday. Because I was the oldest, my mother sat down with me to ask for help. She would need someone to be home for my brother and sister when they returned from school, and she would need me to cook dinner. I was so relieved that she would be able to help my dad and our family that I quickly agreed to do as she asked, even though it meant I would be giving up some of my after-school activities. To me, it felt like a small price to pay for my family’s future.

The other source of help we received came from my grandparents. I am not sure if my parents ever realized that I had overheard them asking my grandfather for a loan until we could get back on our feet. Fortunately, this is something my grandfather was able to do, and he told my parents not to worry about paying him back until they felt they were in a position to do.

This period of my life taught me a lot. First, the example of my mother’s former employer hiring her back on the spot taught me that it is important to stay in touch with people with whom I have worked in the past, as well as the importance of doing the best job possible while in their employ. Whether this relationship results in receiving a good reference or in assistance getting another job when the time is right, former employers and supervisors can be invaluable in helping us find future opportunities, should we ever need their assistance.

Secondly, and most importantly, I learned about the generosity of others and how it can make a tremendous difference in another person’s life when they need help. Whether the difficulty is losing a job, coming down with a serious illness, or any number of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, anyone can experience a situation in which they may someday need to rely on the help of others. This is the lesson foremost on my mind this week as we approach the close of this year’s State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC), which ends on November 14.

Because of my experience as a 15-year-old, I have always supported organizations I believe in, such as the more than 300 charities represented by SECC. I have found that there are few things in life as satisfying as giving generously to help others, even though we may never know who has benefited from our gift.

For those of you who have already given to SECC, thank you! To those of you who have yet to donate, I hope that you will do so today. No amount is too small, and it is so easy to give. You can write a check for a one-time donation, or you can make a one-time or monthly gift through a payroll deduction. I know that some of you may not be in a position to give, but for those who are, please donate today. And remember, no gift is too small—we are harnessing the power of collective giving. Together, UTMB’s contributions will go far!

giving-donnas

Happy National Radiologic Technology Week (Nov. 6 – 12). Thank you for everything you do to deliver excellent patient care and promote healthcare safety!

Success is the sum of small efforts…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe famous artist Michelangelo once received a visit from a friend as he worked diligently on a sculpture. After a brief chat, the friend left but returned later to find Michelangelo working on the same statue. Thinking the statue was nearly completed on his last visit and seeing no visible change, he exclaimed, “You haven’t been working all this time on that same statue, have you?”

“Indeed I have,” the sculptor replied. “I’ve been retouching the facial features, refining the leg muscles, polishing the torso; I’ve softened the presentation of some areas and enhanced the eye’s expression.”

“But all those things are insignificant,” responded the visitor. “They are mere trifles.”

“That may be,” replied Michelangelo, “but trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”

Even today, painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo is still widely regarded as the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance. Among his works are the “David” and “Pieta” statues and the Sistine Chapel frescoes. His work demonstrated a blend of psychological insight, physical realism and intensity never before seen.

The moral of the story? People and organizations who pay attention to the “little things” produce excellence in larger matters. As American entrepreneur, businessman and founder of the Marriott Corporation J. Willard Marriot said, “It’s the little things that make the big things possible. Only close attention to the fine details of any operation makes the operation first class.”

UTMB’s Best Care initiative is composed of many “moving parts”. There are a number of focused efforts in each area in which we are working to make significant improvements: reducing our observed mortality rate, improving effectiveness (doing or using the right things to achieve the desired patient outcome and best experience of care) and increasing efficiency (doing or using the right things to achieve the desired patient outcome and best experience of care). There is a tremendous amount of work in progress, and I am truly excited about the collaboration and teamwork taking place to make Best Care a reality.

Many of you are a part of the teams conducting this focused work, but everyone in every role at UTMB Health contributes to making our organization the best place to receive care and to have an excellent patient experience. I know you are all dedicated to this endeavor and have a desire to stay informed of our progress and the projects underway. That’s why this week, I would like to give you an update on some of the work that is taking place, as well as the work that will be conducted in the time to come.

Reducing UTMB’s Mortality Rate

At UTMB, all patient deaths are reviewed within 48 hours of the event, as generated in the Epic electronic medical record (EMR). Each death is then classified based on how likely the patient’s death was to occur—some patient’s illnesses are severe and they were expected to pass away, while other patients who passed away were not expected to. This is why detailed and specific clinical documentation is important when it comes to predicting mortality, because it illustrates how sick our patients are and it helps identify any additional illnesses or complications that may make care delivery more complicated. To aid in this documentation effort, an enhancement known as a “smart phrase” will be made in the EMR is forthcoming.

Another way we have improved our mortality rate—and more importantly, improved end-of-life situations for patients and their families—is to consult with patients and their families when the patient is expected to pass about moving into hospice care. This helps give them a choice about how to spend their last days and honors the patients’ preferences. So far, we have been able to transition 14 patients into comfortable end-of-life care. These efforts will continue and remain ongoing in the future.

Diagnosing, Treating and Preventing Sepsis

Sepsis is a leading cause of mortality. It is a bloodstream infection that results in tissue damage and organ failure. Sometimes patients arrive in the hospital with sepsis; at other times, they can develop it after a surgery (if this occurs, it is considered a patient safety event).

Recent work to improve our performance in this measure has focused largely on placing a workflow in the electronic medical record (EMR) to help providers follow the evidence-based care recommended for testing and treatment of sepsis. A report has also been developed to help monitor all patients with sepsis on their problem list—this helps ensure that if sepsis is initially documented as “suspected” or “probable”, it is eventually also documented as “confirmed” or “ruled out” and the final diagnosis is clearly documented.

Clinical documentation guidelines for the diagnosis, documentation and coding of sepsis and septic shock have now been posted to the Best Care website, and clinical documentation specialists and inpatient coders continue working closely with physicians on this area for improvement.

Clinical Documentation Improvement

After physicians document the care they provide in the medical record, it is later translated into codes which are used not only to determine the cost of care and reimbursements, but to help illustrate how sick patients are and to track disease trends. The documentation/coding process is fairly technical and detailed, but one important factor is to identify not only the primary diagnosis, but also identify and document any complications or co-morbidities (aka, secondary, co-existing illnesses). It is also important to note whether or not the secondary illness was considered “major” (meaning it required more resources to treat and was at the highest level of severity) or “simple” (meaning the condition resulted in some increased resources, but at a much lower rate).

When ICD-10 was implemented in October 2015, it changed how some conditions and procedures were classified. That is one reason why specificity of clinical documentation was strongly emphasized. However, it was predicted that on a national level, some services that are considered “procedural-heavy”, like general surgery, general medicine and cardiac services would be more susceptible to the impact of this shift than other areas of care.

At UTMB, clinical documentation improvement is focused in all services, but project teams are also particularly focused on Cardiology. To help providers make the best possible diagnosis choices, Department Chair Dr. Ken Fujise has requested that a template be developed for use in the EMR, and this work is in progress.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Building on work already accomplished, Orthopaedics continues work to reduce patient length of stay and preventable 30-day readmissions through revised order sets (order sets are standardized lists of orders for specific diagnoses that help physicians follow evidence-based guidelines for care), conducting risk assessment for patients (that is, understanding what might put a patient at risk for readmission), and improved patient education and physical therapy training. Sometimes, a patient may need advanced care after a surgery, such as a knee replacement, but their condition isn’t serious enough to actually be admitted. By placing them in observation instead, which is a less expensive care environment, a 30-day readmission can be avoided.

Other areas of focus that are helping to improve the data for our readmission rate overall is ensuring that elective surgeries are clearly distinguished from non-elective surgeries and that inpatient procedures are accurately coded as planned or unplanned.

Last but not least, throughout the inpatient arena, patient care teams continue conducting progression of care rounds and using the “8 Ps” (an assessment of preventable risk factors for readmission). Teams also continue conducting and documenting “Teach Back”, which helps ensure that patients understand their condition and how to care for themselves at home. Care managers remain focused on following up with patients after they are discharged to ensure they are following their plan of care. Particular attention is being given to caring for hospital-dependent patients.

“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.”

As you can see, there is a lot of work going on! Although I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we slipped in our rankings in the most recent Vizient Quality & Accountability Study, all of the amazing work I described above was not included in the data submitted for that study’s time period. Therefore, I am confident that if we continue these efforts and maintain a steadfast focus on Best Care, including maintaining our performance in patient-centeredness and equity of care, we will be successful in our endeavor to become a top 20 academic medical center in the next study.

Thank you all for your diligence and hard work! And remember, it’s the things we work hard for that have the greatest worth. We have a tremendous opportunity to prove that UTMB Health is the best place to receive patient care!

Quote attributed to Robert Collier

Lifting People Up

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEach day at UTMB Health, people’s lives are touched in positive ways by our employees. Last week, I heard a story I wanted to share with you about an employee who went the extra mile to lift a patient’s spirits.

Nurse Keith Sumrall was working on the Pediatric Unit in John Sealy Hospital. One of the patients for whom he was caring had just been through a tough surgery; he also had an intellectual disability which made him feel especially anxious about the entire experience. One evening, as Keith left the patient’s room, he asked if there was anything else he could do. Kyle* had his heart set on one thing: a Kit Kat bar.

There were no Kit Kat bars on the unit to take to the young patient. The next day, Keith decided to buy something sweet for his patient. However, he didn’t return to the room with just one candy bar—he arrived with 60 Kit Kat bars, which he poured onto the bed cover in front of Kyle. The expression on the young man’s face was priceless. The moment was captured by his father, who videotaped the encounter.

Who would have thought that Kit Kat bars could bring that much joy to a patient who had been through so much that week? Kyle was so appreciative, he decided to name his new teddy bear after Keith.

I received another story on Wednesday from Dr. Joan Richardson, Chair of Pediatrics. It was an article that appeared in the New York Times (click here to read the article) about the experience of a family at CHA Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts. Although the story did not take place at UTMB, it very easily could have.

The article featured the letter from the patient’s husband, who wrote about the professionalism of the staff, their kindness and compassion, and their consideration for the patient’s dignity and the family’s comfort. The staff also made it possible for the husband to have one last tender experience with his wife. These are all the types of things I hear about almost daily from our patients and their loved ones here at UTMB.

These two stories are examples of people who took delivering Best Care to a whole new level. Best Care is more than medicine. It is showing compassion and kindness for people who truly need our care. We should always ask patients and their loved ones if there is anything else we can do for them, and if there is something we can do to help (even if it is not within our scope of responsibility) we should find a way—we can always lend an ear, and we can always treat our patients and their loved ones with the same care and respect with which we would want to be treated.

Best Care is about understanding our patients’ needs and then doing what we reasonably can to meet them. It’s about living our values. The employees in these stories did exactly that as they demonstrated what exceptional patient care is all about.

Thank you to all of you who work together to truly work wonders for our patients and deliver Best Care, every patient, every time!

“THERE IS NO EXERCISE BETTER FOR THE HEART THAN REACHING DOWN AND LIFTING PEOPLE UP.”
John Holmes

* The patient’s name and video above are shared with permission of the patient’s family.


SECC Don’t forget! The State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) is underway! SECC is a chance to give back to our communities and the important causes that are near and dear to us.

To all who have already committed to SECC, thank you!  To those who have not yet given, please give this every consideration. No amount is too small, and giving could not be easier. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift).

Please visit the SECC website at https://www.utmb.edu/secc  to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is November 14, 2016.

Remember Why You Started

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever worked really hard to improve at something, only to find that after dedicating a lot of time and attention to it, you did not get better? Or worse yet, that you didn’t even do as well as when you started? Did you give up, or did you make adjustments and work even harder?

When I was in my early 20’s, I decided I would take up golfing. Many of my friends played, and I thought it would be a good skill to have, especially if I were going into business. Everyone in business plays golf, right?

The first thing I set out to do was purchase a set of golf clubs. I am left-handed, so borrowing clubs was out of the question, and no one I knew had left-handed clubs that I could borrow. I had even tried playing a round of golf using right-handed clubs, but wow, was that a mistake! I didn’t even get through three holes before I realized it simply wasn’t going to work.

So, I set out in search of some left-handed golf clubs. I had been saving up for a new car, but I decided since my car was running fine, I would use the money to buy my clubs instead. I would love to say that they helped my performance, but they did not.

Despite family members who tried to teach me and despite the lessons I paid for with more of my car savings, nothing helped. In my entire life, I have played nine holes of golf twice. I am sure it was entertaining to those accompanying me—I would miss the ball and hit the grass with the club, knocking up a chunk of earth, or I would swing repeatedly at the air while trying to tee off. Then, it would take me about 10 strokes just to get to the green. While I was a pretty good putter, it did not make up for the rest of my performance.

Ultimately, I decided that golf was not my game; so, I invested my time in playing other sports I was good at like volleyball, softball and bowling. (I ended up being pretty good at bowling!) However, I have often wondered how good I could have become at golfing if giving up hadn’t been an option. I guess I will never know…

This experience made me think about Best Care. Last week, we received our results from Vizient for the quality and safety data we submitted in parts of 2015 and 2016. While we are still generally in the top 20 for equity and patient-centeredness, and we are almost at the top 20 for patient-safety, we have fallen in our overall ranks for mortality, efficiency, and effectiveness. As a result, our overall score fell from being 58th to 76th out of a little more than 100 academic medical centers. While we are still in the three-star category, our results within that range slipped.

What happened? There are several things to point out:

  • The 12 months of data we submitted did not include most of the last four months of effort we have given to the Best Care initiative. This means that some of the great progress we have made so far was not captured in this set of data. This was particularly evident in the category of mortality; for example, we know we have made considerable progress by converting patients who were expected to pass away to hospice care at the right time.
  • As we had already anticipated, several items were also added to the survey this year which affected the scores. For example, length of stay (LOS) was previously calculated according to the date of inpatient admission and the date of discharge. Now, patients who are being observed but are later officially admitted are also included in this count, and the time they spent in observation is included in their length of stay, thus increasing UTMB’s overall length of stay performance.
  • We have identified issues that are creating the need to keep patients in observation, such as limited availability of some weekend services in the hospital (other than what is needed for emergency services). The Health System has started working with affected departments to help improve patient access for those services on a routine basis.
  • It should be noted that several services have improved their performance by reducing their length of stay, as well as the direct cost of care for the patient. So, there was some positive news in the latest results.

We will be looking very closely at the data this week and developing the additional action plans we need to meet our Best Care goals, but we need everyone to stay focused on what we need to do in our individual roles—and most importantly as part of our teams—in order to be successful.

They say, “When you think about quitting, remember why you started.” Unlike my decision to give up on golfing, quitting Best Care is not an option for us. We have to double down on our efforts—we owe it to our patients and their families and we owe it to ourselves to show the world that the care and service delivered at UTMB is the very best. When the Vizient Quality & Accountability Study comes out next fall, and we are in the top 20, our efforts to “Be the Best” will not end. Maintaining that position will be as challenging as achieving it. It is hard work to always deliver Best Care, but it is also highly rewarding.

I am convinced with the many good people we have working together on Best Care, that we will achieve our goals. Thank you for all of your contributions to and work on behalf of our patients to assure that they receive Best Care – every patient, every time.

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Everyone Can Help Someone

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs you may recall from previous Friday Flash Reports, I am the oldest of three children. When I reflect on my childhood growing up in Springfield, Illinois, I have many memories of my mother. She was, by any measure, a very busy woman—she had three kids, worked part-time, and took care of most of the “homemaking” responsibilities that were common in the 1950’s, like cleaning the house, doing laundry, getting kids to and from school and after school activities, and cooking three meals a day. To me, this was nothing short of amazing.

One day, she was particularly harried, trying to set the table and get dinner ready. My dad, who the three kids called “Stormin’ Norman” when he was out of ear shot, saw me in the dining room and told me to go into the kitchen and help my mother get dinner ready. Being the rebellious first child, I did not like to be told what to do, so I nonchalantly told my dad that helping mom with dinner was “not my job”.

This statement…was a mistake.

Stormin’ Norman took me firmly by the shoulders, made me look straight into his eyes, and he said, “When you see someone who needs help, you help them. That is always your job.”

I could feel my response to him building up inside me, but I decided it would not be in my best interest to talk back, so I went into the kitchen to help my mom. As I started to set the table without her asking me, tears ran down her face. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was just really tired and appreciated my help.

That wasn’t the most memorable moment of my life, and it was not particularly dramatic, but that experience became a defining moment in my life. Seeing my mom react so appreciatively to my efforts to help her out made me realize that I needed to be more in tune with what others were feeling so that I could do my part to help out.  I remember as I responded to my mom, “It’s no problem,” my dad’s eyes locked with mine.

I never told my mother that my gesture was really less than magnanimous and Dad had basically forced me into helping, but he never told on me either. Until she passed away in 2010, she always thought I was actually a better person at that point in my life than I really was. It was a great lesson to learn at a relatively young age, and ever since, I have always tried to take time to try to help others when I see the need.

A story that recently took place at the UTMB Health Multispecialty Center in League City illustrates that helping others out in times of great need comes naturally to Patient Services Specialists Vanessa Romero and Donna Papa. One evening, as they were leaving work a little later than usual, they were approached by some of the landscape workers. Two of the men were carrying their unconscious co-worker.

Vanessa and Donna immediately went into action—they called 911 and stayed with the men until the paramedics arrived. They knew that there still was a physician, Dr. Kevin Merkley, in the clinic, who was able to get the automated external defibrillator (AED) ready for the paramedics (an AED is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm). Throughout the experience, Vanessa was able to speak to the workers in Spanish and served as a translator between them and the paramedics.

The actions of Vanessa and Donna exemplify our Best Care motto, “Every patient, every time,” because no matter what, we should always be ready to treat those who come to us for care with the same respect and compassion as we would like to be treated, and as we would also want the most cherished of our loved ones to be treated.

Our opportunities to help those in need from day to day may not always be as dramatic as Vanessa and Donna’s story, but each and every one of us has a chance daily to be a light in someone’s world and to help them out. You might be on the team who helps make sure our phones work so patients can reach our hospitals and clinics, and through your work, you play a role in Best Care (I’d like to extend a special thank you to the Information Services team who helped out with a phone problem at the Angleton Danbury Campus earlier this week!). You might help ensure supplies are quickly unpacked and delivered to our inpatient units, and you play a role in Best Care. Or, you may simply help someone find their way to their destination—and YOU play a role in Best Care.

There are things we all can do each and every day, both big and small, that impact the experience of care at UTMB Health. Thank you, Vanessa and Donna, for modeling the way for Best Care!

Donna Papa and Vanessa Romero

Donna Papa and Vanessa Romero

Never get tired of doing little things for others…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is a saying, “Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their heart.”

This week, I would like to share a story about a couple of teams at UTMB who went above and beyond to deliver Best Care to one our patients. This story was submitted by Dennis Santa Ana, patient care facilitator in the Cardiothoracic Surgery/Vascular Surgery Unit. It was originally published in this month’s issue of Nursing News, but I thought it was such a wonderful and touching example of how two departments worked together as a team to make a special wish come true for one of our patients, I wanted to share it with you all in today’s Friday Flash Report.

During the latter part of May, a 46-year-old female was admitted to the Intermediate Specialty Care Unit in Jennie Sealy Hospital with a diagnosis of end-stage heart failure. She was placed on the highest priority waiting list for a heart transplant. However, this meant that she would need to remain hospitalized until a suitable heart donor was found.

During a casual conversation with her nurses, she mentioned the upcoming wedding of her son. She said she would love to attend the wedding, but she had dismissed the idea because of her current condition. Her nurses toyed with the idea that maybe they could have another wedding in the hospital chapel so she could be there, but planning it seemed extremely complicated.

However, the nurses in the unit were persistent about finding a solution. They had a meeting with their nurse manager, Dell Roach, and came up with a plan. In collaboration with the Information Services Department, they were able to stream the wedding live using an app so the patient could view the wedding on the big projection screen in the 9th Floor Jennie Sealy Hospital Conference Room.

The patient was so excited to hear the news. On the day of the wedding, she put on an elegant dress and two of her friends came to watch the wedding with her. Dell Roach and her staff brought food and refreshments, including a wedding cake. She was so thrilled to see the whole event unfold on the big screen.

I must admit, I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading this story. I think, as we focus on Best Care over the next year, sharing stories like this one demonstrates that no matter what your role—whether you deliver direct patient care or work in support of those who do—everyone at UTMB contributes to Best Care. Even if you work from behind the scenes or in areas such as Revenue Cycle Operations, the Access Center, or Business Operations & Facilities, you help create an exceptional care experience for our patients and their families.

These two teams were able to give a mother and her family the chance to share a very important life moment—and that is priceless.

Thank you for everything you do to deliver Best Care at UTMB Health!

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Achieving Uncommon Success through Teamwork

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemA couple of things happened this week that (once again) made me realize what an incredible group of people we have working at UTMB. It also made me realize that when we work together as a team, we truly are able to work wonders.

On Wednesday afternoon, UTMB received a phone call notifying us that a number of patients were being transported to our trauma center, all of whom were in critical condition after having suffered a chemical exposure. Our team in the Emergency Department (ED) did an incredible job supporting these patients (and many others) that day. Their work was nothing short of extraordinary, both in effort and in outcome.

Yesterday, I saw Christine Wade, director of Patient Care Services and assistant chief nursing officer of the ED. I thanked her for the great work that her team had done the day before. Without hesitating, she told me how incredibly proud she was of each and every person who works in her department. However, she said what struck her most about this incident was how everyone at UTMB had joined together to work wonders in a time of crisis.

The minute the team received the call, Christine said they immediately sprang into action. ED Manager Pam Cruz took control of operations and EMS Coordinator Chad Connally managed the arrival and decontamination process of the patients. Meanwhile, ED Techs Donnie Walker and Preston Huff donned full decontamination gear to assist with the arrival and care of the patients in outside temperatures of well over 95 degrees.

Christine told me about the many other teams who came to the aid of the ED staff. With one quick call, Respiratory Therapy was on site and ready to respond. With another call, the Blocker Burn Unit (BBU) staff, physicians and fellows were working seamlessly, side-by-side with Trauma Surgeon Dr. Carlos Jimenez and the other clinicians and members of the ED patient care team. Meanwhile, the pharmacy had ensured the needed emergency medications were delivered within minutes.

Then, just after the first patients, more arrived who had also suffered the same chemical exposure. In the midst of this, another serious trauma arrived. The team did not miss a beat; they remained calm and well-organized, and rushed the trauma patient to the operating room.

Josette Armendariz-Batiste, director Patient Care Services and assistant chief nursing officer for the Adult Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Units, quickly obtained assistance from the ICUs to help care for all of the incoming critical patients. At the same time, Mike Mastrangelo, UTMB’s institutional preparedness program director, and his team were also on deck to help Clinical Operations Administrator Jennifer Casso coordinate resources, help the Patient Placement Center team find available beds, and assist the ED faculty in managing the flow of regular patients.

Christine told me that Jason Sheaffer, nurse manager of the BBU, worked late into the evening checking on patients across the multiple units. She said there were countless other staff members who also selflessly worked extra hours to ensure that the patients had everything they needed. Throughout it all, everyone maintained a positive can-do attitude. The ED never stopped seeing regular patients and did not go on diversion. She credited ED Charge Nurse Darrin Radzinski with helping keep everything running smoothly during the course of these events.

It was clear to me that in this time of crisis, UTMB physicians, nurses and staff had a singular focus—to provide the best care and comfort to patients in their greatest time of need. How humbling it was to hear the stories of this incredible work!

One might think this would be the ending of my report this week, but I must tell you, my amazement did not end with this story! That’s because while I visited with Christine, we were both in attendance at the annual Good Samaritan Foundation’s Nursing Excellence Awards, a luncheon held each year in the fall to honor outstanding nurses from hospitals throughout the greater Houston area. Much like the Olympics, the awardees are given gold, silver and bronze medals for their outstanding contributions to nursing.

As with past years, UTMB Health had many nominees and many, many awards. In fact, 27 UTMB nurses were awarded bronze medals. Two of only six gold medal recipients were also from UTMB—Odette Comeau, from the Health System, was recognized for excellence in Clinical Education and Dr. Carolyn Phillips, from the School of Nursing, was recognized for excellence in Nursing Education (Faculty). Both Odette and Carolyn had videos that were shown during the ceremony in which colleagues told of the outstanding work and contributions each has made to the field of nursing. It was a moving tribute to two outstanding nurses!

The events of the past two days reminded me that the greatest successes are rarely achieved by individuals alone; rather, they are achieved by teams of people who are all committed to a common cause and to making an impact that will last for years to come. It also reminded me of the importance of preparation on an individual level so that we can give our very best and contribute to the success of our team as a whole.

Uncommon situations require uncommonly prepared and talented people to be successful. At UTMB Health, you all have demonstrated this excellence time and time again, and this was certainly demonstrated on Wednesday. Just as you have done in the past, when called to action, you rose to the challenge. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the care of these patients and all of our patients, each and every day.

There is a saying, “Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean.”  When we focus individually on being well-prepared while working collectively as a well-orchestrated team, we truly do “work together to work wonders.”

'Teamwork is the secret that make common people achieve uncommon result.

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