Collective Voices

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEvery year is challenging when you’re a physician, staff member or leader at an essential hospital. But the good news is that in this ever-evolving health care environment, essential hospitals are better prepared for change than others: We have a long history of using limited resources to achieve good outcomes for complex patients who face many social and economic challenges. UTMB has truly demonstrated this since we began the Best Care initiative last June.

Yesterday, I was officially inducted as board chair of America’s Essential Hospitals (AEH), the nation’s leading association and champion for hospitals and health systems dedicated to high-quality care for all, including the most vulnerable. It is truly an honor to assist AEH in preserving and strengthening America’s safety net hospitals, and to assure that the health care needs of vulnerable populations are addressed for years to come.

The following are some examples of collective achievements of essential hospitals each year:

  • We provide 16.9 percent of all uncompensated care.
  • Half of the patients we serve are uninsured or Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • We run approximately 34 percent of all Level I trauma centers, 42 percent of burn centers, and 25 percent of pediatric intensive care beds nationwide.
  • We train nearly three times the number of physicians as other U.S. teaching hospitals – on average, that’s 228 residents per hospital versus 78 per hospital.
  • We deliver approximately 395,000 newborns; nearly 39 percent of those births are paid for by Medicaid.
  • We treat approximately 13.8 million patients in our emergency rooms.
  • And we achieve all of this, spending slightly less per Medicare beneficiary than the average hospital.

Our margins are stretched thin by this work, and for some hospitals, there’s no margin at all. Overall, AEH members operate with only a 3.2 percent margin – that’s less than half of other hospitals. Essential hospitals would lose 3.6 percent of that margin without government funding provided to hospitals that treat indigent patients, known as Disproportionate Share Hospital payments.

It is this work, and our daily struggle to make ends meet, for which America’s Essential Hospitals advocates. The association gives essential hospitals like UTMB a strong, collective voice that’s hard to ignore. Standing alone we risk failure, but standing with one voice we have every chance to succeed. Most important, we give a voice to our vulnerable patients, who might otherwise be overlooked or left without care. We have a collective responsibility to work with our communities, within our states and our nation to be that voice for patients and create access to equitable care for all.

While the numbers speak for themselves, they come alive best through stories that speak to the complexity of care and to the needs of patients we manage every day. I am excited to share with our essential hospital peers the innovative work we are doing at UTMB in support of our mission. We all have stories that can help people who are not entrenched in health care understand the problems we juggle every day.  I hope you will send me your experiences (protecting patient confidentiality, of course) so we can share the story of how, working together, we make a difference in the lives of so many!

Working together in concert not only helps us move more quickly; it changes the nature of what we can undertake. When we have the confidence that we can orchestrate the group effort required to realize them, we dare bigger dreams.

― Justin Rosenstein

We’re sorry, your appointment has been delayed!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever boarded a flight and only moments after getting settled in and buckled up, the captain announced a mechanical issue? Thirty minutes later, still sitting on the tarmac, your frustration starts to mount as you realize you’ll have trouble making your next connection. Have you ever experienced a cancellation that forced you to wait hours for the next flight, and upon arrival at your destination in the Continental United States, you learned your baggage was on its way to Hawaii? I’m sure most of us have been there in some form or fashion at least once, and the more you travel, the more you’re bound to run into the occasional cancellation or delay. Airlines use checklists to ensure every safety measure has been taken before passengers board the airplane, but with tight schedules and high demand, there are sometimes operational issues that can’t be avoided.

From my perspective as a customer, I can’t help but wonder what is really going on behind the scenes when these inconveniences occur. Was it genuinely something that couldn’t be avoided, or was it poor planning or ambivalence? For many of us, when there is an unexpected or unreasonably long wait, it tends to influence our impression of the service we receive. We might even tell others about the quality of our experience. It may also cause us to reconsider our choice of airline the next time we book a flight. I recently read an article in H&HN Magazine that says among the 12 largest airlines, one airline ‘gets it right’ (via flights that leave on time, arrive safely and without deplaning incidents or baggage mishaps) 76 percent of the time. That means one in four flights will have a disappointing result. Whether it’s the fault of the airline or a complication of how the aviation system operates, passengers who are stranded in airports, delayed, inconvenienced or put on hold for hours when trying to reach a customer service representative blame the airline.

Health care is often compared to the airline industry when it comes to safety, high-reliability operations and customer service. Just as with airlines, in health care, customers (our patients) are watchful of our performance. Experiences like a long wait for an appointment can be frustrating. A last-minute rescheduled appointment is most often an inconvenience. It might make a person wonder why their health care provider cannot answer their phone in a reasonable time, or take weeks – or even months – to get them an appointment. Don’t they care about their patients’ time? Why is it taking so long to get a return phone call? Do they make mistakes? Our patients also rely on us to quickly resolve problems. Their experience, whether positive or negative, has the potential to influence their perception of us as a provider and as a result, has the potential to affect our reputation.

Improvement is a continual process, and we are always looking at ways we can enhance the patient experience at UTMB. As far as access improvement, a great deal of effort has been put into improving our processes from an overall health system perspective. We are continuing this work with a focus on specialty services, where we sometimes have longer waits for appointments. To help improve access, we have decentralized specialty care appointment scheduling during regular business hours to make it easier for clinics to work patients into available appointment slots. We also created the ability for patients to view and make appointments online in primary care and selected specialty services via MyChart.

We know that in each specialty, patients have unique needs. We also realize patients sometimes have preferences, such as which provider they would like to see and on what day and time. As a result, even though we can implement broad solutions to improve access, each department will also need unique solutions for their area and their patients. We have a lot of possibilities at our finger tips. It is important to keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making major access improvements in each specialty, so it will require a combination of strategies, like exploring the use of telemedicine for consultations where it makes sense logistically and partnering with primary care to provide certain screening services. As we all strive to make these improvements, we will find that some of those solutions end up being so effective, they will work on a wider scale, improving the patient experience for all.

Through teamwork, collaboration and exploring the use of technology and the data we collect, we will find many great opportunities to take patient service and access to the next level. There is a saying, “Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” I know those of you who work directly with our patients and work within our systems have great ideas, and I believe in the talent and innovative spirit of everyone at this organization. Let’s demonstrate once again the kind of ingenuity we have at UTMB. If we can move the needle in our Best Care initiative from a rank of 76th place to 19th place among 102 academic medical centers in just nine short months, we can move the needle in any area we choose! Let’s make a difference this year in access, providing Best Care to each patient, each time, when they expect it!

“The man who moves a mountain begins carrying away small stones.”
– Confucius

Engage our patients in their care by asking, “What matters to you?”

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Tuesday, June 6, “What matters to you?” Day was celebrated globally. The observance first began in Norway in 2014 and became more widespread after Healthcare Improvement Scotland got involved. The day is intended to build support for more meaningful conversations between health care providers, social workers and the people, families and caregivers who receive such services. I think this is a wonderful effort, yet I couldn’t help but wonder why we devote only one day to recognizing the importance of asking our patients what matters to them?

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine, now known as the National Academy of Medicine, defined patient-centered care as “care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values” and that ensures “patient values guide all clinical decisions.” Providing patient-centered care is important because it results in better outcomes for patients and greater patient satisfaction with the care they receive. With the patient’s voice at the center of their care team, it also helps assure the patient and family that members of the health care team are all talking to one another, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Additionally, it promotes shared decision-making, which emphasizes the importance of clinicians and patients working together to produce the best outcomes possible. In short, it helps the team deliver care that is focused on what matters most to the patient.

In an article published in Becker’s Hospital Review, Maureen Bisognano, president emerita and senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, explains, “What you’ll find is that what matters deeply to people often is different from what we might clinically diagnose them, but it expands our view, our sense of what is really important in these peoples’ lives.”

This concept was explored by Michael Barry, MD, in an article on shared decision-making published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012. He explains, “For some decisions, there is one clearly superior path, and patient preferences play little or no role — a fractured hip needs repair, acute appendicitis necessitates surgery and bacterial meningitis requires antibiotics,” for example. “For most medical decisions,” he continues, “more than one reasonable path forward exists (including the option of doing nothing, when appropriate), and different paths entail different combinations of possible therapeutic effects and side effects.” In such cases, patient involvement in decision-making adds substantial value.

In the namesake campaign launched by Healthcare Improvement Scotland last year, several examples of things that matter to patients were highlighted:

  • “I like to receive the medication that manages my Alzheimer’s at the time I always take it at home, rather than at drug rounds.”
  • “It’s really important to me that my granddaughter is involved in any discussions about my support. She’s the main person in my life!”
  • “Getting outside is really important to me. When I’m having a difficult day, getting outside helps me to find space to think more clearly.”

Most of you will recall the direction of Sir William Osler to treat the patient, not the disease. Dr. Berry says, “If we can view the health care experience through the patient’s eyes, we will become more responsive to patients’ needs and, thereby, better clinicians.” The question of “what matters” can be approached in a variety of ways, such as:

  • “What are the things that are important to you at the moment?”
  • “What are some of the things you would like to achieve as a result of this support?”
  • “When you have a good day, what are the things that make it good?”

It is said that this approach to conversing with patients helps us build a relationship with them, allowing us to better understand the person in the context of their own life and the things that are most important to them. Because diversity is one of our core values at UTMB, we try to recognize and understand the many different backgrounds, beliefs, traditions and preferences of our patients. With this crucial insight, we are in a much better position to work with our patients to find the best way forward for them, and we are in a much better position to provide them with the very Best Care.

When was the last time you asked a patient, “What matters most to you?” What was the outcome? Please send me your stories.

Are you prepared for hurricane season?

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout a month ago, an old friend reached out to me. I had not heard from her for several years, so I wondered if something important was going on. She told me she had recently been in the process of cleaning out her mother’s home when she found something that made her think of me. It was a newspaper from June 13, 1957 with the headline, “Two Dead, 46 Hurt in Storm: Tornado Hits City, Leaving a Path of Death, Destruction.” She wanted to know if I remembered the day of the storm, June 12. Did I remember? That was the time a tornado directly hit Springfield, Illinois. It was as vivid in my mind as yesterday!

Illinois State Journal – June 13, 1957

I remember riding in the car that day with my mother, younger brother and little sister. We had just stopped by my friend’s home to give her a ride to our swimming lesson. We had only made it about two blocks down the road from her house when it suddenly started raining. It was pouring down so hard that you couldn’t see anything beyond the front of the car’s hood. The wind whipped at our car, making driving even more difficult. Between the wind and the rain, my mother was having a difficult time seeing the road, so she immediately turned around and headed back to my friend’s house. My friend’s mother was in the driveway ready to help all of us into her house and down to the basement. I cannot recall if there were tornado sirens that day, but we all sat in my friend’s basement, huddled together and hoping that the tornado would spare us. Fortunately, it did.

This was my first experience with a tornado, but it would not be my last. Once, I remember waking up to the sound of sirens and having to take shelter under a mattress in the room that my sister and I shared. I also remember huddling in school hallways with my fellow students as sirens wailed. Another time, while driving, I saw a funnel cloud headed right toward me. I have sat in bathtubs in homes without basements (advice that meteorologists recommend because it is supposedly one of the most sturdy areas of your home), listening to the transistor radio for news. Each time, thankfully, I have been safe.

When you live in the Midwest, you learn to always be prepared for a tornado, which can come out of the sky at any time. There is not time to prepare, like stocking up on water and gathering other provisions. There is only time to react and to act on what you have been taught. Unlike a tornado, however, an approaching hurricane does allow us some time to prepare. That being said, as anyone who has ever attempted to purchase hurricane supplies in the days before a storm can tell you, now is the time to prepare!

Yesterday, June 1, marked the beginning of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which will last until November 30. This year, forecasters predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season. Regardless of whether the odds of a storm in our area are high or low, continual readiness is important. Not sure where to begin in making preparations? Websites like offer a number of checklists to get you started, and UTMB’s Emergency Operations website offers information specific to emergency plans at UTMB.

Because some emergencies can come without notice, you should develop a communication plan with your family. Does your family know how to get in touch with one another? It may be that as employees, we are asked to stay for an extended time at UTMB. Or, we may not be at work or home at the time of an emergency. Lines of communication could be temporarily down or unavailable due to high call volumes. It’s important to have a family discussion to determine how you will contact one another, where you will go in case of emergency and to make arrangements for the care of dependents and pets.

Just a reminder, as a UTMB employee, there are some important actions you should take to prepare for an emergency:

  • Complete the 2017 Emergency Classification and Acknowledgment Form by June 30, available in a new online format (login required).
  • Consult your supervisor or faculty advisor if you have any questions about your emergency responsibilities or reporting to work/school during an emergency.
  • Become familiar with UTMB’s Institutional Emergency Operations Plan (login required).
  • Enroll in Direct Deposit and MyChart, to ensure access to your paycheck and/or your UTMB medical records in an emergency.
  • Update your general UTMB Directory information—particularly your work location (L-code) and departmental mail routing number. Go to Employee Self-Service/Personal Information/UTMB Directory Self Service. This information is vital to our ability to determine who is affected by a particular emergency and will support our efforts to better target emergency-related messages in the future.
  • Update your contact information in the UTMB Alerts emergency notification system. From the Directory tab on iUTMB, search your name and click the “Edit My Alert Info” button. Add mobile or other contact information as needed, and ensure at least two contact methods are listed for you.
  • Keep computer security in mind. Never reveal your UTMB login information to anyone, and be suspicious of emails asking you to enter your login information.
  • WEAR your ID badge every day at all UTMB locations, so emergency responders will know you belong.
  • Develop an emergency plan for your home that takes into account care and safety of dependents and pets.

Steven Cyros may have said it best: “Remember: when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.” Let’s all commit to doing our part to assure that we can respond in any situation to assure our safety and the safety of our patients.

It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I got home from work Tuesday night, my husband motioned to me to come to the window. We live in a condominium and have a view of the Gulf of Mexico from many floors up. When I walked out on the balcony, I saw a sailboat about 50 yards from the beach that was tipping at about a 45 degree angle to the water’s surface. The sailboat had gotten too close to the shore, so much so that the keel got stuck in the sand. For those of you, like me, who may not know much about sailing, the keel is the flat blade sticking down into the water from the boat’s bottom that prevents it from being blown sideways by the wind, and it holds the ballast that keeps the boat right-side up. With the keel stuck solidly in the sand, the boat was now at the mercy of a considerable wind.

I watched for the next several hours as five trucks, chains and many workers painstakingly tried to pull the boat to shore. In all, it took about six hours and many people to free the boat. During this time, I began to wonder about those sailing the boat and how they found themselves in this predicament. Did they not have a depth finder? Was it broken? Was the wind so strong that they could not overcome its intensity? Were these novice sailors, unfamiliar with navigating their boat? Many possibilities ran through my mind as I watched this scenario unfold.

I observed how carefully the workers orchestrated each move to secure the boat and bring it to shore. They did not rush the rescue. Instead, their moves were slow and calculated. It was clear that they had a strategy to free the sailboat, but they did not rush their work. Meanwhile, a crowd of observers had slowly gathered on the beach during the rescue. I was amused that some set up “camp” and brought beach chairs and refreshments. Others walked up, watched for a while and then moved on. Everyone remained respectful of the team that assembled to rescue the sailboat.

Throughout this situation, I thought about the importance of having the right experience, expertise and most importantly, having a solid plan. Through our many efforts in support of Best Care, we have already shown that we can generate good patient outcomes, and we must remain dedicated to continuing this success. The next step toward becoming the premier health system in Southeast Texas, with a national reputation for excellence, in an environment that supports the delivery of Best Care to every patient, every time, is to become a destination for care by showcasing our clinical expertise.

UTMB’s Clinical Strategic Plan (CSP) is our map to this goal. Since unveiling the CSP earlier this year and discussing our plan with faculty and staff, many have asked why and how we formed the plan. Health care is an ever-evolving environment, and it can sometimes feel a little like navigating uncharted waters. No sailor can control the wind, but they can adjust their sails to get to their destination. That’s why carefully charting one’s course is so important. You can’t always get from point A to point B in a straight line, so it’s important to know where you’re headed. It is also important to carefully assess the waters and study the currents to identify the direction in which they flow.

We charted our course by performing an analysis to determine which service lines should receive targeted focus to ensure future growth. After all, it doesn’t matter how fast you sail, if you’re not sailing in the right direction! By organizing, integrating and delivering a comprehensive set of services around a major disease entity, age group or patient population, we are not only able to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness, but more importantly, we strengthen our commitment to our patients – this is critical in today’s challenging health care environment.

Our analysis allowed us to hone in on programs that most closely met select criteria, including alignment with the Research Strategic Plan. This was an important factor because through cutting-edge discoveries, we are not only able to provide patients with the best evidence-based care, but also clinical trials, which is something that makes UTMB unique. We also considered areas in which we had significant experience and expertise, clinical productivity, opportunities for growth, and market need and opportunity.

Working together with physician advisors, employee advisors, and patient and family advisors, UTMB determined that our plan will begin with focused investment in two UTMB Health Service Lines: an Integrated Neurosciences Service Line and an Eye & Ear Institute. There is a need in the market for these services, and they provide opportunity for future growth, because many times patients who see us for one reason have additional conditions that require use of other specialties.

For example, we learned in our research that patients who see us for neurosciences services have a greater need for musculoskeletal and heart services. Thus, not only will the neurosciences program grow, but additional services will benefit. Because visual impairment and hearing loss often occur together, particularly among older adults, we chose Eye & Ear as our second targeted service line. This will help grow ophthalmology and otolaryngology specialties on both the mainland and the island. Primary care will also remain an important focus in the communities UTMB serves.

Worthwhile goals are rarely attained via short routes. This is why the Clinical Strategic Plan is a long-term, five-year plan. While these two leading service lines will receive the majority of investments in the initial years of the plan, other programs and specialties will receive investments, as well. These investments will occur throughout the term of the plan via “incubator” opportunities and existing program expansion. For example, we are already planning to develop an Oncology Service Line plan in preparation for the opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center outpatient facility on the UTMB Health League City Campus in the summer of 2018. Other services with high potential for future service line development include gastroenterology, musculoskeletal, and heart, thoracic and vascular services. We must build on our growth (i.e., planning for next services) as we implement initial service line plans. We will carefully track our progress and make course corrections as needed along the way.

There is a quote, “It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” Growth and partnerships, patient experience and operational excellence are all important parts of UTMB’s vessel, and successfully sailing a large vessel like our clinical enterprise requires a skilled, dedicated and passionate crew. At UTMB, we are a strong, innovative and diverse team, and we are passionate about working together to deliver the Best Care to every patient, every time. With success, we will arrive at our destination, achieving increased patient volume and revenue, and securing UTMB’s financial health and reputation, both regionally and nationally.

Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI have always considered myself an optimistic person. Even when things are not going well, I generally try to see the positive side of the situation. Although I can’t always see the positive benefits at the immediate moment something is happening, I’ve learned that with time, lessons will surface from whatever it was that caused me concern or discomfort, giving me a better perspective.

A few years ago, I told you all the story of how I fought my wet kitchen tile, and the tile won. I had started my morning the way I usually do. I got up, got ready for work, and went into the kitchen to grab my lunch from the refrigerator. As I rounded the corner, I was greeted by small bugs all over my kitchen floor, so I sprayed them with insect spray. Afterward, I mopped up the mess. With the chore completed, I picked up my keys and briefcase, then I started walking across the kitchen floor again to get my lunch, even though I knew it was risky to walk on a slick floor. And guess what happened? I slipped and broke my leg!

I was devastated to learn that the type of fracture I had meant that I would not be able to put any weight on my leg for two months. I was grateful I did not need surgery, but I could not imagine how I would survive for two months stuck in a chair or lying down. On top of that, my injury meant that I would have to cancel a long-planned trip that had been on my bucket list. This dampened my spirits at first, but once I realized that my attitude was not helping my family and friends who were trying to help me, I decided I immediately needed to change my attitude. I cannot control everything that happens to me, but I can control how I react to it!

There is a quote that I like: “Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.” It’s really true. There are certain people that I love being around, because they always lift my mood. My husband is one of those people. He smiles all the time. Even when I want to be mad at him for something, he smiles, and I can no longer be angry. This really used to annoy me! When I asked him why he always does this, he reminded me that it is hard to stay mad at a person who is smiling. It’s true, his positive attitude is contagious!

I think it is also important to remember that our attitude is not only conveyed with words. Attitudes can be conveyed by facial expressions, body language or even the tone of one’s voice. Usually, even if you think you are masking the fact that you are in a poor mood, you probably are not—people tend to pick up on these subtle, non-verbal clues. When we aren’t in the best of moods, sometimes simply taking a few deep breaths or going for a short walk can help us get back into a better state of mind.

When it comes to speaking with others, I generally try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, particularly when I feel as though someone is asking a lot of me, they are being very demanding, or I am speaking with someone who is dealing with something very difficult. I try to project a positive attitude in these situations, because I have found that this helps others feel more positive about whatever reason they have come to me. On the other hand, I have noticed that when I am in a bad mood, that has an influence on the mood of those around me. This is why I believe in the importance of starting every day with the intention of bringing a positive attitude and positive energy to the workplace.

In fact, I recently read an article that said the mood in which we first come to work can affect our entire job performance. When we are in a good mood, we have more energy, we are more focused, more articulate, and we are open to new ideas. However, when we are not in a good mood, we are more easily distracted, less focused and less creative. For example, consider how this comes into play when working with others to solve a problem. Here are a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1: Have you ever brought a problem or an idea to a team for discussion? Imagine the responses you received were something along the lines of the following: “Things are different here. It won’t work,” or “We’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t work,” or, “If it’s not that broken, don’t fix it,” or “Just try to fit in and ignore it. Maybe the problem will go away.” How would you feel after that type of encounter? Disappointed? Discouraged? Frustrated? After you left that meeting, you might remain focused on those feelings, and this would likely show through in your attitude. Meanwhile, the team members who did not have a positive attitude about finding a solution to the problem potentially missed out on an opportunity to make a beneficial change; additionally, they may very well have stifled the creativity of the group in the future.

Scenario 2: Now, let’s take the same situation, but this time, the types of responses you heard were, “It will be hard, but if we put our heads together, surely we will find a solution,” or, “We have tried that here in the past, but times are different now, so let’s see if it will work,” or, “I think it is a great idea to try and solve this, but there may be a step or two we have to complete first in order to tackle this.” How might this make you feel? Hopeful? Confident? Valued? All of these feelings can also show through in your attitude. And on the other side of the coin, the team is building a culture that welcomes the exploration of creative solutions.

I know that for me, I definitely want to work with the supportive individuals in the second scenario. I would much rather be surrounded by people with a “can do” attitude. I also prefer to be around individuals who want me to be engaged, work with me as part of a team, and desire to solve problems or make necessary changes.

I remember once many years ago, a friend I worked with who was a very successful researcher came into my office with a problem. He told me he was certain I would never be able to help him solve it, but he wanted me to help him change his perception of the problem.

I told my friend, “You know, I am an optimist. I think everything can be solved. We just need to keep looking.”

“Do you know the problem with being an optimist, Donna?” he asked. “The problem with being an optimist is that you are never pleasantly surprised.”

To this day, I disagree with my friend! I do not believe that I should change my whole attitude to one of doubt just so I can be surprised when something does go right. I choose to remain optimistic about my life and my work! When I am positive, I see more possibilities than problems. When I am optimistic, I connect better with those around me. This is because we all feed off positive energy.

In the coming week, let’s all try to focus on bringing positive energy to UTMB. Even when we are not in as good a mood as we could be, let’s try to refocus our energy in a more positive direction. Whether as an individual or as a team, a positive attitude makes a big difference, and most of all, it helps us better serve our patients and their loved ones. If we all give this a try, and we notice how our good mood affects our interactions with others, we will find our positive attitude has been contagious, and we will be surrounded with positive, “can do” people!

Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs many of you know, I grew up in the Midwest with wonderful parents who taught my two siblings and me many important values that have served us well throughout our lives. Our parents were always clear about their expectations of us, and my brother, sister and I tried to live up to those expectations. My dad also had some pretty strong opinions about education, work and integrity. To my dad, honesty and integrity were essential to making and keeping strong and trustworthy relationships.

We lived in Springfield, Illinois, and my parents did all they could to make sure we were safe and that we made good decisions about personal safety. My dad was not a fan of motorcycles, based on some past history of a friend who had a very bad experience while riding one. As a result, one hard and fast rule of my father’s was that we were never to ride on a motorcycle. While there were some shades of gray in a handful of his expectations of us, there was no gray area in this rule—you either rode on a motorcycle or you didn’t, and it was clear that our dad expected the latter.

One weekend during the summer between my junior year and senior year of high school, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I remember we were all enjoying music and the night air when my friend, Steve, arrived. He approached me and told me he wanted me to see something new. We went to the street in front of my friend’s house, and there sat a beautiful black and chrome motorcycle.

“Let’s take it for a spin!” Steve said.

“Oh, I can’t,” I responded.

“Why?” asked Steve.

“My dad forbids it,” I explained. “You have no idea the trouble I would be in if he ever found out that I rode on the back of a motorcycle.”

I think Steve could sense that he might still be able to convince me. “It’s Friday night. Your parents never go out, and we are a good ten miles from your house. They’ll never know,” he persuaded.

I was at the crossroads of an important decision. Steve was right—my parents would never know. They never went out because they always stayed home with my younger brother and sister unless I babysat for them.

Well, you can guess what happened. Yep, I rode on the back of Steve’s motorcycle. We took a quick spin down McArthur Boulevard, rode through Dairy Queen and then back to my friend’s house. It had only taken me a mere thirty minutes to break one of Dad’s strictest rules.

The next morning, I was in the kitchen when my father came in for breakfast. “Were you riding on a motorcycle through Dairy Queen on McArthur Boulevard last night?” he asked.

At that moment, all I could wonder was how on earth he could possibly know. “Why are you asking that?” I could feel my face getting flushed with guilt, but I kept my composure.

“Because our friends, Lilly and Jim, were at the Dairy Queen last night, and Jim called me this morning to say they had seen you drive through the parking lot on the back of a black motorcycle driven by a young man,” he said.

Okay, this was the moment of truth. Did I tell him what he thought he already knew and confess, or would I deny the whole thing? Then I blurted out, “I was at Roxy’s all night. I don’t know who Jim and Lilly saw, but it wasn’t me.”

“Are you sure?” asked Dad.


And then, the next four words that tumbled out of my mouth would haunt me for the rest of the day. I said it again, “But it wasn’t me.” Those. I had just been dishonest with my dad. I felt terrible the rest of the day and hardly slept that night.

The next morning in church as I sat next to him, the sermon was about being honest in your dealings with your fellow man. Honestly, I squirmed all the way through church that day. Later that afternoon, I could stand it no more. I went to my dad and confessed what I had done. I was expecting the worst.

Dad asked me why I told him, and I said that I felt so terrible about not telling him the truth that I would rather face the consequences of my bad choice than to be dishonest with him. Fortunately, he accepted my apology and asked me not to be dishonest with him ever again. It was a great lesson for me, because I not only learned how important integrity is, but I also learned how terrible it feels to not demonstrate it. I also learned another great lesson from my dad—he knew how terrible I felt and believed that was punishment enough.

One of our core values at UTMB is integrity, which means that we are always honest in our dealings with our colleagues and our patients. It means that even when it is difficult, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions and words. We must demonstrate honesty in all dealings. It is a critical value, because it is the foundation on which strong and lasting relationships are built. Without integrity, there can be no trust.

Many of you may have heard the saying, “Character is who you are in the dark.” Integrity is a quality of character that can’t outwardly be seen by others; it’s how we would act if no one was looking. People with integrity do the right thing whether or not they will be recognized for it. Integrity is also fundamental to our personal peace. When we are honest with ourselves and others we also are at peace with ourselves.

A good friend of mine once told me that she might not have a lot, but she would always have integrity. As I think about it, my friend actually had everything because she had integrity. I hope as we reflect on all of our core values at UTMB, that we all remember the importance of integrity. We trust one another to do the right thing, and moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. We cannot have a safe, reliable environment without integrity! Integrity is the key to having a culture in which we always offer the very Best Care and service!


Reminder! Next week is UTMB Nurses and Health System Week (Monday, May 8 through Friday, May 12). Check out the schedule of events below!

Monday Kick off with Balloons & Banners

  • 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. TDCJ Hospital Breakfast (Second Floor, TDCJ Cafeteria)
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • 6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Hospital Admin Breakfast Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campuses
  • Ambulatory Breakfast Delivery
  • 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.410D
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Blood Drive Jennie Sealy 4th Floor
  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ANA Webinar, Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.410D
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • Nurse Leadership Appreciation Lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Awards Ceremony, Research Building 6, Room 1.206
  • 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Pet Therapy, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • Noon – 2:00 p.m. Cake and Ice Cream for Florence Nightingale’s Birthday, Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campus
  • Cakes to Ambulatory
  • Ice Cream Distribution for Night Shift
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSix years ago this month, my father-in-law, Talmage, passed away at the age of 95. As I think about Tal, I am always reminded of his love for learning and innovation. As a young soldier in World War II, he worked with a small group of men who perfected radar tracking systems for submarines. After the war ended and he had completed two master’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics, Tal and his new bride, Barbara, moved to Cape Canaveral, Florida where he began working with some of his Army colleagues to develop radar tracking systems for the space program. Eventually, he moved to California with his young family to become head of research and development for a company one of his Army buddies had started.

At age 50, he thought he had retired when he and his family moved back to Barbara’s childhood home in Illinois so that she could become chair of the English department at a new community college. Once they arrived, however, they discovered the college needed an instructor in electronics. Once again, Tal was pressed into action, this time to teach.

I met Tal after he had retired from teaching. But retirement for Tal did not mean sitting around and watching TV. He was a voracious reader of anything about mathematics (his undergraduate degree), physics or engineering. He read about three to five books a week and was well-known to the library staff in Auburn, Illinois and eventually Madison, Wisconsin. When he started growing a little more forgetful, he used a small notebook to write down the names of the book titles and authors he had already read so that he could reference it when he was picking out new books at the library—he wanted to make sure he was choosing something he had not already read!

One of the most memorable moments I had with Tal was during one of his visits to California where we lived. At the time, Tal was 83. One morning he walked into the family room, and I noticed a large hardback book in his hand. I asked him what he was reading.

His eyes lit up when he said, “I am reading a mathematics book.”

“What do they write about in a mathematics book?” I asked.

“Oh, it is a fascinating topic,” he replied with a large smile. “It describes how the property of numbers change as they approach infinity.”

That conversation was typical of Tal. He loved reading and learning all his life. He loved innovation, taking something familiar and seeing if he could improve on it. I miss his enthusiasm for learning and his quest to understand more about his love of math and science.

To me, Tal is a wonderful example of the love of innovation and education we should all embrace as we move forward into the future as an academic health sciences university and academic medical center. Right now, our industry is filled with uncertainty and change. And while it is challenging to balance all of the change with the practical reality of taking exceptional care of patients, I hope we can do so with enthusiasm and  positive outlook Tal had.

As I travel and meet with other colleagues throughout the country, I am always struck by how much better UTMB seems to be doing as an organization than others in terms of innovative programs. We have already implemented a number of programs that many are still struggling to get off the ground. For example, others are looking to us for guidance when it comes to achieving Magnet™ recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). They want to know about how we have been working to integrate a small community hospital into our system for the past several years. They want to learn about how we are leading the way as anchor for Medicaid 1115 Waiver Region 2, the 16-county area in which we have implemented more than 30 innovative Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) projects. They also want to know more about our MakerHealth™ Space, the first such makerspace in the country where health care providers, staff, students and faculty gather to create innovative solutions to patient care.

When I have conversations with staff, particularly in patient care areas, people often say they were drawn to UTMB or remain here because, in their own words, they love that they can learn something new every day. Many of you have told me that you love being part of teams that are delivering new and leading-edge, life-saving care to patients. You’ve told me that you love working at UTMB because no day is ever the same, and that you like how quickly your shifts go by.

While all of our values are important, I believe lifelong learning and our innovative spirit are what really distinguish UTMB from our peers. I know and appreciate that some of you feel weary from the pace and magnitude of change we are experiencing—I confess that I, too, feel that way at times. But what keeps me going is seeing each of you do all you can to provide Best Care to patients while still making time to continue learning, whether it is through formal education, reading about the latest initiatives at UTMB, by taking advantage of educational and training opportunities offered, or through simply working together in teams and on councils to learn from each other. I am inspired by the work you all do each and every day, and you all inspire me to continue my own professional growth as I try each day to be a better leader and do my own part to improve the health of our patients.

Thank you all for living the UTMB values each day!

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” —Anthony J. D’Angelo

Celebrating our first year in Jennie Sealy Hospital

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe ninth of April marks our first anniversary in Jennie Sealy Hospital! I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed since the day we officially opened. I remember it was hard to contain our excitement as we moved into the new hospital. It was like taking the first step into a bright and vibrant future, bringing along with us a 125-year legacy of patient care, education and research.

I recall that of the 185 patients we safely transported to our new hospital that day, our first and last patients were both former faculty members who had worked at UTMB many years ago. The last patient had even met his wife, a nurse working in John Sealy Hospital at the time, while he was a medical student here—to me, it was a perfect example of how the threads of our past are so tightly intertwined with the fabric of our future.

The weeks before we opened the hospital were quite an amazing experience. I remember the feeling of finally being inside the building that I had watched being constructed over the years. I remember being awed by the beauty of the light pouring in through the windows of the foyer and the stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico from the 11th floor. I also remember the day they hung the art throughout the hospital and how it truly transformed the space. In the words of Florence Nightingale, “Never underestimate the healing effects of beauty.” I couldn’t wait to see the reactions of patients and visitors as they stayed with us in our beautiful new hospital.

Today, Jennie Sealy Hospital is buzzing with activity. Our students are receiving their education in this state-of-the-art facility. Our faculty and staff, who have a tremendous passion for patient care, are busy performing remarkable work each day. As of this anniversary, more than 12,000 patients will have been discharged from Jennie Sealy Hospital. Every day, I am touched by patient testimonials and amazed by the talent and expertise of our people. We could not fulfill our missions of patient care, education and research without you! Each of you is an important thread that creates the fabric of UTMB as we work together to work wonders.

That said, I want to thank all of you for meeting and exceeding the expectations of our patients and their loved ones. UTMB could not work wonders without you, Jennie Sealy Hospital would not be a wonderful place to receive patient care without you, and words can’t really express how much I appreciate everything you do to make sure our patients are well cared for. Congratulations to all on one year in Jennie Sealy Hospital!


Going above and beyond

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemYesterday, I received a letter from one of our patients, and I wanted to share it with you all today, because I think it is a wonderful example of how when we do just a little more than is required for our patients, and we do so genuinely, we lift them up. Going the extra mile for our patients doesn’t always require being faced with a patient who has dramatic needs or challenges. Sometimes we can demonstrate care for our patients through a simple act of kindness or comfort, or finding a way to make the patient’s experience and process of care as convenient as possible for them. That’s exactly what happened in this case, and it helped make one of our patients feel truly cared for:

I am writing this letter to recognize the outstanding service that I received on March 21st and March 22nd from two of your employees. I had a doctor’s appointment at the Harborside Medical Group office and came in contact with Alina Valdez. When I arrived and checked in, the first receptionist could not get my parking ticket validated. She handed it off to Alina and after 10 attempts she was able to obtain a validation code.

After I finished my appointment with my physician at approximately 5:20 p.m., I went back to the reception area and the only one there was Alina. I told her the doctor ordered an X-ray and that I would need to make an appointment (I knew it was after 5:00 p.m.). Alina explained that she could get me over to the main hospital; she knew that Olivia Martinez in Radiology also stays late, and they could get my X-ray done that day so I wouldn’t have to make another trip or visit. I also needed to make another appointment to see a specialist, which Alina handled, scheduling my appointment for the next day at 11:00 a.m.

Alina made several follow-up calls and kept me informed. It is my belief that Alina went out of her way to assist and accommodate me for no reason other than I was a patient, and Olivia also was very helpful. They didn’t have to be.

I would greatly appreciate someone recognizing these two ladies for their care and dedication to both UTMB and me as a patient. I am truly impressed and know the value of dedicated employees. Please know that I am very appreciative of their service.

When we treat each patient the same way we would want to be treated, or as we would want a valued member of our family to be treated, not only are we doing what is right, but we are also distinguishing the patient experience at UTMB from all other providers. When we warmly greet and assist patients and visitors, and we find solutions for them, we show them that we respect them as human beings and we understand their time is valuable. When we work together to make sure the patient gets the test or appointment they need in a timely manner, we show that we care about their well-being. We can demonstrate care and respect by promptly responding to patients’ messages. We can follow up with them to make sure they are satisfied with their experience and that they have all the information they need.

When we consistently deliver an exceptionally good patient experience, and when we thank our patients and families for choosing UTMB, we set ourselves apart from the rest. Let’s be the kind of UTMB Health employee that always represents the kind of care we say we will deliver—the same care we would want for the most cherished of our loved ones. Going above and beyond is what providing excellent care and service is all about!

How do you go the extra mile for our patients?