Staying the Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Beyond Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thinking-outside-the-box

Honoring our past, embracing our future…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I was honored to welcome attendees to the 2015 Neuro Nurses’ Day Conference, an opportunity for practicing clinical nurses to share and explore recent advances in Neurology and Neurocritical Care. The daylong event was held in the Ashbel Smith Building, which many of you know affectionately as “Old Red”.

As I approached the front steps of Old Red, I thought about what a perfect setting this was for a conference about innovation and advances in health care, because this is where nearly 125 years ago, 23 students and 13 faculty members began UTMB’s legacy to advance health care education, research and patient care. Just five years later, UTMB’s School of Nursing opened as the first university-affiliated nursing school in the U.S.

UTMB was founded as a center for scientific inquiry, a training ground for the future of medicine, and a catalyst for improving the health of society. Since that time, we have earned a reputation for graduating health care professionals who share a deep commitment to excellence, a desire to blaze new trails, and an unsurpassed willingness to leverage their extraordinary expertise to improve the health and well-being of others. Today, UTMB continues its legacy and builds on its rich history. This made me think of a principle that a former mentor had shared with me: Respect all that is good about the past while looking forward to the future.

As we embark on our journey to increase the value (cost + quality) of patient care, we must ground those advances in the history of UTMB that has served us well over the past 125 years. The work we do for our patients is incredibly diverse and often complex. We care for patients from all backgrounds, ranging from the most critically ill to those who seek routine preventive care to stay healthy.thumb_972D434E3BF7486F824579B8DCD36448

Therefore, the work that we do for our students and trainees is also diverse and complex, and it is why we recognize lifelong learning as one of our core values. Despite the complexity and challenges of an ever-evolving health care landscape, UTMB is continually recognized for its exceptional achievements.

Innovative approaches to education, like online courses, are helping us offer students alternatives to traditional classroom learning. Thinking back, I remember after Hurricane Ike, I was so impressed to learn that almost all of our SOM and SON curricula were placed online so students could continue their studies without having to physically be on campus. Now, we offer educational outreach methods on an ongoing basis, like the UTMB School of Nursing’s RN-BSN program, which allows current registered nurses an opportunity to advance their education by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in a 30-hour, two-semester online program; these innovative approaches to education continue to blossom.

This year alone, nearly 1,000 total faculty members are preparing a diverse student body of more than 3,000 individuals across the fields of medicine, nursing, health professions and biomedical research for a bright future; more than 1,300 of those future leaders will graduate this year.

As I think about our future at UTMB, regardless of the department in which we work, we all have many opportunities to work together collaboratively to make a difference —not just within our own department, but across the entire organization. We continue to seek ways to provide the highest quality of care in every patient interaction. We embrace lifelong learning to grow professionally and take advantage of special educational programs, just like the 185 attendees at this week’s Neuro Nurses’ Conference. We explore ways to share our knowledge and expertise both with our UTMB colleagues and with others who share our commitment to and passion for exceptional patient care.

As we embrace our value of lifelong learning and spirit of innovation, let’s strive to:

  • Reach our fullest potential, personally and professionally.
  • Be adaptable and flexible in our approach to our work so that innovation is a natural outcome of the way we work.
  • Remain open to new approaches and practices in our work.
  • Value the ideas of others and respond in positive ways—this does not necessarily mean we must embrace every idea we hear, but it does mean that we support a culture where new ideas and innovation are welcomed and freely explored.
  • Commit to putting our patients and families first, so that we advance patient- and family-centered care.

UTMB has an unparalleled legacy of service because of the caliber of its people, and in true UTMB spirit, we are thinking boldly about how we can expand the impact of our excellence nationally and globally. Each of us at UTMB Health can best honor our rich history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on our future. We commit to excellence in all that we do as we work together to work wonders for our patients.

Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne of my favorite weekends of the year starts tomorrow. Why? Because it is the NCAA Men’s Regional Final Four Basketball Tournament! This year, I am especially excited, because two Big 10 teams are in the quest to become the 2015 NCAA Championship team. I have a college and alumnae allegiance to the University of Illinois, but I am really a Wisconsin Badger fan, because of the eight years we lived in Madison.

When my family moved there, Wisconsin was not known as a basketball powerhouse, but March Madness of 2000 changed that when Coach Dick Bennett took the Wisconsin men’s basketball team to the Final Four. As I watched Wisconsin play Arizona last Saturday night, I thought of all the lessons we can learn about leadership and teamwork exemplified by this Wisconsin team.

I suppose one has to first live in Wisconsin to truly understand that people there don’t really wish to stand out, individually. For the most part, they are understated people who usually go about doing the work that needs to be done—no fanfare, no need for individual praise; they just want to get the job done, and there’s no feeling that any one job is more important than another.

As I watched the tournament game last weekend, I was struck by the fact that the players’ uniforms all have the classic Wisconsin motion W, but there are no names on the uniforms. As a newbie to Wisconsin basketball in 2000, I asked someone about this. Without hesitation, my friend told me that in Wisconsin, the emphasis is on the team, not the individual. No one player is more important than the other.

As I mulled over that response, I decided that the University of Wisconsin Health System would take the lead from the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, and we eliminated titles from our doors and from our employee badges. I always knew where people worked without these identifiers, because we kept the department name on the badge; but without titles on our badges, it was emphasized that no one position in our organization was more important than any other. We all were important parts of a team.

The other thing I noticed about the Wisconsin team is that if one player was not doing well that night, the team rallied and found someone who could get the baskets needed. Although Frank Kaminsky is a great basketball player, the last two games have not been his very best. Fortunately, Sam Dekker stepped up, and along with the other forward and guards, made the difference between winning and losing. When the opponent finds a weakness, the Wisconsin team adjusts and continues to play.

It’s the same in the work we do at UTMB. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, but we must magnify the strengths of the team to get the work done. Sometimes the usual leader is not up to a particular job at that moment, so others on the team step up to help and get the job done. During the past two weeks as I have recovered from knee surgery, this has certainly been the case with the leadership team that works with me. They have stepped up and kept everything going exceptionally well to allow me the time I needed to mend.

If you watch the games this weekend, take note of another thing: most of the coaches are running up and down the sideline signaling or calling out plays to the players. The Wisconsin head coach, Bo Ryan, rarely does this. Why? Because he and the team have practiced and practiced and practiced to the extent that he trusts his team to continue to move the ball and make the plays that they have practiced time and time again. They are prepared. And so it should be with us.

One great example at UTMB is that while we have not yet needed to care for an Ebola patient, our nurses, physicians and other employees who will be at the front line of care, should this ever occur, have trained and trained and trained so that they are prepared. There are so many more examples of teams preparing throughout the organization. Have you thought about how you contribute to your team to care for our patients? Even if you don’t directly care for a patient, your supportive work, whether it is filling the Omnicell or greeting families and visitors, contributes to the team’s overall effort to take good care of our patients.

As a leader, it is apparent that Bo Ryan completely supports his team. When he came out of the locker room after halftime in a game where Frank Kaminsky did not have a stellar first half, one of the sports announcers asked what Coach Ryan had said to him team, which was losing at the time. Coach Ryan didn’t take the bait. Instead, he simply said, “I told the team to keep doing what they were doing.” The announcer then tried to get him to comment on Kaminsky’s performance, but Coach Ryan rattled off Kaminsky’s first half statistics and said he thought Kaminsky was having a good game. There it is: Coach Ryan always supports his team. He may privately talk to them about what they need to improve, but publicly, he always supports their efforts. Do anything else, and you erode the team.

Finally, when the Wisconsin team gets behind, they don’t panic. They generally don’t make “dumb shots” or “bad passes”. You win the game (you get where you need to go) if you are prepared and don’t panic. So far that has worked for Wisconsin. The team has two more games to go, and my hope is that they emerge as the champion; if they do not, I am still proud to support them, because for me, they exemplify all that is good about leadership and teamwork.

I know we are faced with much change and many challenges in health care today. The future is riddled with one proposed cut after another from our payors. I know you have heard about our challenge to improve our margin by $100 million over the next five years, and that seems like daunting feat to many. But, if we do not panic, and if we create a detailed game plan for addressing this challenge, then we can systematically work the plan, and we will be successful.

Just as I am confident and proud of the Wisconsin team, so I am confident about UTMB’s future because we have the right team of people and, under the leadership of UTMB President Dr. Callender, we have the right leadership to face future challenges and emerge a stronger UTMB.