Repack your bag; lighten your load

“Aside from Velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” – Dave Barry

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemTwo weeks ago in my Friday Flash message, we affirmed that we all play an important role in assuring our patients and families receive the best possible care. At the same time, however, we acknowledge that in health care, it’s nearly impossible to always anticipate just what to expect and when. Thus, there is importance in being prepared, knowledgeable and flexible in our jobs, because we never know when there will be a new challenge around the corner.

That was the case over the past couple of weeks, as UTMB Health prepared to proudly step forward as a leader in Texas for the management and treatment of infectious diseases like Ebola. Our teams in Epidemiology, Facilities, Nursing, the Galveston National Lab, Infectious Diseases, the Emergency Department and countless other areas rose to the occasion as they worked diligently to prepare for the care of any potential patient. While this scenario fortunately did not come about, we were given a very important opportunity as an organization to prepare for future possibilities and to be recognized as a state, national and global resource in the fight against and treatment of infectious diseases.

#1 Crew

Dell Roach, Chelita Thomas, Jason Ziegler, Josette Armendariz, Neal Clayton, Kimberly Young, Robert Hastedt, Edwin Smith, Leon McGrew and Christine Wade

With all the work that had taken place during this time, I felt like this weekend I should take a moment to recharge my batteries and spend some quality time with my family. I know that I could work around the clock if I let myself, because my job is important to me—I always want to give it everything I’ve got! But at the same time, there are other very important parts of my life that make it meaningful. Sometimes the small things do matter! Good time management means making the time to do all of the things that are most important to me.

Being more balanced doesn’t mean a dramatic upheaval in our lives. It can simply mean changing the way we think about our situation. I know at times, we may tend to think of ourselves as standing in the middle of a big swirling circle of tasks, burdens, problems and responsibilities—I often refer to an old Ed Sullivan performer who was a master at the art of plate spinning when I think of these moments. At every second, we have a dozen different things to do, a dozen problems to solve, a dozen burdens to endure. After some time, we can feel like we’re on overdrive and overtired.

The timing of a story recently sent to me by a friend seemed appropriate to address the feeling of being under pressure. It was about a young lady who was leading a seminar on stress management. She confidently walked around the room with a raised glass of water, and everyone in the audience expected that she was going to ask the ultimate question: “Half empty or half full?” But instead, she asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged anywhere from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you may need to call an ambulance!”

And that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on. We have to put the glass of water—our stress—down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on, performing better each time.

Although feeling overtired and sometimes surrounded by our tasks and problems is a common mental picture, it is one that is totally false. No one of us, however crowded his or her life, has such an existence! Rather, it is how we think about the tasks, and whether or not we choose to put them aside from time to time.

What is the true picture of your life?

Another story I came across suggests that instead of thinking of our tasks and challenges as coming at us all at once, we should instead imagine an hourglass on our desk. The bowl at the top of the hour glass is connected to the bowl at the bottom with a tube so thin that only one grain of sand can pass through it at a time. That is the true picture of your life, even on a super-busy day. The crowded hours come to you always one moment at a time—that is the only way they can come! The day may bring many tasks, and sometime many problems, but invariably they come in single file.

The third thing that came to mind was a book I recently read (and recommend) called Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life, by Richard J. Leider and David A Shapiro. One of the authors was inspired to write the book after a backpacking trip in East Africa. He had bought a giant, expensive backpack stuffed with hi-tech supplies for the trip. But his guide, a Maasai elder, carried only a spear and a stick. After a long day of hiking, the guide was curious about the backpack and asked to see the contents. The traveler unpacked his bag, proudly displaying all his possessions. Then the guide asks him a simple question: “Does all this make you happy?”

The author couldn’t answer his guide right away, or that evening, and even weeks afterward. Over the course of his trip, though, he ended up giving many of the things he was carrying to the local villages. It turned out he didn’t need many of the things he thought he had to have. In fact, he was happier without them.

Sometimes it is the things we think we need to carry around with us that are unnecessary. We become so consumed thinking about the weight of our backpack, we forget to look at the world with a sense of curiosity and a feeling of wonder.

Quite simply, we must continually unpack and repack our bags, and take a long, hard look at what we’re carrying and why—are they still helping us move forward, or are they weighing us down? And, we must continually repack. This is the ongoing and continuous activity of reflection and choice: rearranging our priorities; reframing our vision of the good life; and recovering a new sense of being alive.

What are some things you can do today to lighten your load and repack your bag?

Taking some time to put our worries aside and do the things we love will help us remain continually engaged in our life and work so as to stay vital, fully in the present moment, and hopeful for the future to come. I hope you take some time to do the things you enjoy over the weekend and come back next week feeling refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated!

Every Patient, Every Encounter, Every Time

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI learned long ago that mistakes are most often made when we deviate from the plan. Sometimes we deviate because we don’t think it is important to stick to the plan, or that we can do something better than the plan someone else has laid out for us. At other times, we deviate because we have become so familiar with what we are doing, we don’t pay strict enough attention, or we fail to think carefully about the steps we should be taking. Sometimes, we don’t follow the plan because we are too tired, or we are trying to handle too much.

In certain situations, plans are critically important because it’s necessary that everyone carry out a certain set of actions in the same way. In these cases, variation can cause harm. My role, and the role of the Health System Executive Team, is to provide those plans to you as they become available. Your role is to follow the plan exactly—every patient, every encounter, every time. Thus, your role is vital to everyone’s success.

When someone on the team does not follow the plan, that individual essentially becomes the weak link; and by the same token, I become the weak link if I fail to give you the most current information and plans we have. In the case of the spread of Ebola, we don’t have all of the answers yet. However, we are sharing information and our plans through various communication vehicles, such as the Friday Flash Report, today’s Town Hall meeting, and other methods, as soon as we have them. Our top priority is to always assure that our patients and staff are safe and that our patients always receive the best care.

Because of employee concerns about Ebola, our team of executives, senior leaders, directors and managers have been rounding and meeting with many people this week to help you understand the plan that is developed to-date, as well as to hear your questions and concerns. This activity will continue until we are comfortable that each person knows what they are to do regarding screening and isolation of any patient who presents with symptoms of Ebola, has traveled to a CDC-identified country with widespread Ebola transmission, or has come into contact with a patient diagnosed with Ebola and the 21-day incubation period is not over.

Currently, the greatest concern we have heard from our employees is that not everyone in the clinical settings has been trained: “Will I have to care for someone if I am not trained?”  The answer is no. A select number of individuals been identified, volunteered, and have been specially trained to care for such a patient. A decision has also been made to limit the number of people who would treat a patient, if we receive one, who is diagnosed with Ebola. The rest of our staff will continue to do the good work that they do for our other patients, will be trained to screen for the virus, and to support those who are on the front lines of providing care.

For all points of entry for our patients, whether it is by phone, as they arrive in a clinic or ambulatory setting, or come to our Emergency Department, the people who first encounter the patients must screen each and every patient with the screening tool that is now available in Epic (the tool will be activated once a patient’s chart is opened). For areas not currently on Epic, the same screening protocol applies, only they will conduct the process by paper. This protocol includes asking a series of “symptom” questions, and if the patient’s symptoms are consistent with Ebola, we will then ask a question related to their travel history and/or their potential exposure to anyone diagnosed with Ebola. If the answer to the second question is “yes”, we will strictly adhere to the following steps, without deviation:

  1. We isolate the patient.
  2. We put on our personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. We immediately call Healthcare Epidemiology at 409-772-3192 (department) or 409-643-3133 (24/7 pager).

A detailed policy regarding patient calls has been distributed by Ambulatory Operations, and it will be reviewed with staff.

If you encounter a patient who has not yet been screened, please do so. If a patient asks why we are doing this every time they call or every time we see them, please politely explain to them that it is important for their safety, the safety of other patients, and the safety of our staff.

If a decision is made to transfer an infected patient to the UTMB-Galveston Emergency Department by ambulance, we have the necessary plans in place, as we have collaborated with Galveston EMS and Windsor Ambulance services—the two EMS agencies that serve the UTMB Health Galveston Campus and the UTMB Health  Angleton Danbury Campus most often. We are currently in the process of identifying and working with other ambulance providers for our Regional Maternal Child Care Program (RMCHP) clinics. And, Correctional Managed Care (CMC) is working collaboratively with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to finalize their plans.

I know that many people are anxious about Ebola in Texas and elsewhere. But please rest assured that our world-renowned infectious disease experts at UTMB have been working with this virus for ten years without any infections. We are home to the Galveston National Laboratory, the highest level biocontainment facility, which also serves as the nation’s training site for Biocontainment Safety. We have more expertise and experience with this disease than most, if not all, academic medical centers in Texas.

We are all very concerned about the people affected by this disease. However, let’s make sure that we maintain our calm and steady leadership through this time, and take comfort in the fact that working together, we are more prepared than most organizations to manage this disease.

I know many of you have questions, and even if you are not included in the care of the patient, you want to know the answers. We are currently collecting inquiries and working with individuals in the institution to gather the responses to your questions and concerns, which will be posted on our intranet once they are prepared. Please share your questions with us. You may contact us at or using the Health System Q&A form.


Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIf the news during the past few weeks has taught us anything, one thing is evident about working on the frontlines of health care: it’s ever-changing and at times, unpredictable. It’s also more than a job—it’s a calling, a passion that motivates us to do whatever we can to help others in a time of need.

Author Charles de Lint once said, “I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” I think this sentiment is in the hearts of many in health care, and most certainly in the hearts of our team members across UTMB Health.

We all have an important role to play in assuring that our patients and families receive the best possible care. Yet, we also realize we are working in a changing health care landscape. While it’s nearly impossible to always anticipate just what to expect and when, we must always be prepared, knowledgeable and flexible in our jobs. There are already many everyday challenges, like new and changing technology, to which we must adjust, but there are also often surprises around the corner.

This week, we celebrated Emergency Nurses Week, and the Emergency Department team decided to extend the observance to recognize every individual on the team, including health unit coordinators, patient service specialists, ED techs, faculty, social workers, campus police, and others. I couldn’t help but think about some of the challenges our team in the ED faces today and will face in the future, not only in terms of screening patients for different illnesses, but also in terms of their own personal health safety, helping manage patients’ care, working with new technology, and many other aspects.

ER STAFF WEEK 2014While our ED team certainly works in a unique care delivery environment, all of our jobs at UTMB are unique in their own way. We are all bound together as interdisciplinary health care teams. Whatever our role, whether a nurse, physician, pharmacist, food services employee, physical therapist, patient services specialists, security, materials management or any other employee, we are all affected by these changes and new challenges.

We’ve recently seen how the globalization of society could potentially impact health care. With the ease of international travel, and the growth of multinational corporations, the spread of illnesses and emerging diseases are very real concerns. Globalization also means an even greater emphasis on cultural diversity. At the same time, changing demographics like our aging population and differences in health care preferences, such as alternative therapies, also impact how we must think about health care delivery.

We’ve also recently seen how the latest advances in health care, like new treatment methods, may be quickly applied. We’ve seen the pace at which new technology and devices, like infrared thermometers and external biosensors for point-of-care diagnostics, are being integrated into care delivery models or are already in use. The growing world of information technology has already had a radical impact on health care delivery; there have been many tremendous improvements, like new methods of observation and communication. Meanwhile, our patients are also utilizing new advancements, as they are asked to play a more active role in their own health care decision-making and management.

As we learn about new illnesses and treatments and how we will respond to health care demands in the future, we also must work together to better manage our patient’s care in general. This requires innovative thinking in terms of different types of care settings and systems of care across the health care continuum. The emphasis in health care has shifted from addressing episodes of care with an acute orientation to addressing overall care management. Now and in the future, we will need to focus on the comprehensive needs of our patients and populations.

There isn’t a single job position at UTMB Health that doesn’t play an important role in providing the very best care and service to our patients and their families. This is why, moving forward, our values of diversity and lifelong learning will be crucial as we travel down The Road Ahead.

As we strive to be the best in all our endeavors to improve health for the people of Texas and around the world, we must keep our eyes on the future—it may be here sooner than we think—and develop strong partnerships to ensure continual improvements in knowledge transfer between cultures and health care systems. Compassion, integrity and respect will make all the difference in the care and experience of those who come to us in need.

In addition to Emergency Nurses Week, the month of October also recognizes National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Physical Therapy Month, Health Literacy Month, Mental Illness Awareness Week, Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week, National Health Education Week, International Infection Prevention Week, Respiratory Care Week, Physician Assistant Week, and many additional observances.

Thank you to everyone on our health care teams at UTMB for your dedication, service and commitment to our patients and communities. Together, you work wonders everyday!

Special Grand Rounds Presentation: Innovation

Roy Rosin, Chief Innovation Officer, Penn Medicine

Friday, October 10, 2014 at 11 a.m. in Levin Hall Main Auditorium

RoyRosinWe have a special guest with us today at UTMB. I hope you will join us during Grand Rounds at 11 a.m. in Levin Hall Main Auditorium to hear Roy Rosin, Chief Innovation Officer at Penn Medicine, for a very special presentation about the innovative work currently underway at his organization to transform ideas into measurable results in areas of health outcomes, patient experience and new revenue streams.

Prior to his position at Penn Medicine, Mr. Rosin was the first Vice President for Innovation at Intuit, a leading software company best known for Quicken, Quicken Books and Turbo Tax. He spent 18 years with Intuit. Mr. Rosin received his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and graduated with honors from Harvard College.

The presentation is open to everyone, and will also be streamed live, online. For more information, please visit or download a flyer here:

Lollipop Moments

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWe all work in teams at UTMB, and we’re all leaders when it comes to the business of offering the very best care and service to our patients and their families. Our success as leaders, colleagues, teachers and friends is dependent on our ability to create an environment that brings out the best in people. Whoever you are, wherever you might be, there are talents to be uncovered in people around you.

If you want to bring the best out of someone, you must look for the best that is in them. As a leader and colleague, one of the most effective things we can do to bring out the best in others is to recognize the achievements and efforts of those on our teams and to share and applaud their accomplishments. Who on your team has helped make your day better, or helped you do your job more effectively? Take time to thank others for the great things they do. Appreciation is something anyone can do and everyone needs.

To that end, small efforts go a long way. Writing a thank you card, sharing some chocolates, or remembering someone’s birthday can help people feel valued for what they bring to the table as part of a team and respected for who they are as an individual. Be present for your co-workers; listen to them, understand the challenges they face, acknowledge their efforts, help them overcome disappointments, and commend them for their successes.

There’s a story I often think of called “Lollipop Moments”, told by Drew Dudley, an expert in leadership development. He often shares his story to illustrate that it is through the small things we do that we can have a great impact on those around us.

The story begins on his last day at college. On this day, a girl came up to him and said, “I remember the first time that I met you.” She then told him the story that happened four years earlier.

On the day before she started college, she was sitting in her hotel room with her parents. She was scared and convinced she couldn’t go through with going off to school. But her parents were very supportive, and whether or not she chose to go to school, they understood. The next day, as the girl stood in line with her family to register for classes, her anxiety grew, and she was about to tell her parents she wanted to quit.

At that moment, Drew came out of the student union building wearing the most ridiculous hat she had ever seen in her life—it was awesome. He had a bucket full of lollipops that he was passing out to people in line and talking about the cystic fibrosis charity he had long supported. When he got to the girl, he stopped. And then he looked at the guy next to her, smiled, and handed the young man a lollipop.

Drew said to him, “You need to give a lollipop to the beautiful woman standing next to you.”

“I have never seen anyone get more embarrassed faster in my life,” she said. “He turned beet-red and wouldn’t even look at me. He just held the lollipop out like this,” shyly offering the lollipop. “I felt so bad for this guy that I took the lollipop, and as soon as I did, you got this incredibly severe look on your face and you looked at my mom and my dad and you said, ‘Look at that. Look at that. First day away from home and already she’s taking candy from a stranger!'”

And she said, “Everybody lost it. Twenty feet in every direction, everyone started to howl. And I know this is cheesy, and I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but in that moment when everyone was laughing, I knew that I shouldn’t quit. And I haven’t spoken to you once in the four years since that day, but I heard that you were leaving, and I had to come up and tell you that you’ve been an incredibly important person in my life, and I’m going to miss you.”

As she walked away, she turned around, smiled and told Drew that she was still dating that guy four years later. A year and half later, Drew received an invitation to their wedding.

Here’s the kicker—Drew doesn’t even remember the encounter at all. Although it seemed like the smallest of acts, to share a lollipop, his action had made a great impact on another person.

Today, Drew calls these “lollipop moments”, or moments where someone said something or did something that fundamentally made life better for someone else. Drew believes one way we can redefine leadership is through lollipop moments, how many of them we create, how many of them we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward, and how many of them we say thank you for.

We have all experienced our own lollipop moments. We all have likely even been the creator of some whether we remember it or not. I truly believe that sharing these moments with those that gave them to us can have a very positive impact.

Perhaps all these thoughts about showing appreciation and encouraging people boils down to a simple personal commitment—we need to acquire the attitude of believing in and supporting others. Give encouragement to the best you see in others. Let people know they matter.

I recently received news that over the past year, the Transportation Department improved their response time to requests by 8%. Overall, they now currently respond to requests within 20 minutes 82% of the time.

To thank them for this significant achievement, transportation leadership decided to reward the staff with covered cups that say, “Keep a smile in your voice.” What a wonderful reminder to this team that they truly have an impact on the patient and family experience and to their colleagues! In fact, I can recall many patient comments that call out individuals in transportation for their service: “[UTMB has] the best staff, nurses, doctors, transportation people and many others. It was first class all the way; one of the best hospitals I’ve ever been in.”

Pictures of transportation team members were also posted in the hallway beneath a banner that reads, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Pictures of transportation team members were also posted in the hallway beneath a banner that reads: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

It’s great as a leader and colleague to feel positive about an achievement, but make sure others on your team feel elevated by what you have accomplished as well! The credit, the recognition and the idea of giving back once you have a success is what creates an environment in which you can do it again in the future.

Leadership is about something bigger than us—change one person’s understanding of their true impact. There are small things we can do every day—a compliment or encouraging word can help dreams and ambitions become reality, and help everyone at UTMB succeed as we travel down The Road Ahead.