A Story of Care and Compassion

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I would like to share a letter from a patient’s family member, who was very complimentary of the level of patient care, compassion and professionalism the family experienced at UTMB.

Direct patient and family feedback is one of the most valuable ways we can identify areas in which we are performing well and areas in which we can improve. No matter how well we do, we should always strive to make the experience better. I admit, I became teary eyed as I read this letter, because I could tell how very much our patient care teams truly care, and I could empathize with how much it meant to this family during a very difficult time.

While the family of this patient was extremely grateful for all of the care and support they received, there were a couple of situations in which they suggested we could improve; I think that it is important to share that feedback, just as much as the positive aspects. For example, we must remember to always use discretion and confidentiality when discussing patient status—this is important not only from a privacy point of view, but also out of consideration of the patient’s and family’s emotional reactions to any news they receive.

Additionally, while we often have a tendency to explain things in full detail when everything is going well, we must also remember to disclose what is taking place behind the scenes, such as when unexpected wait times occur. When a family feels well-informed at all times, it can greatly reduce the anxiety they may be experiencing.

The following letter has been edited to protect patient privacy:

I’m writing you this letter to let you know of the wonderful care [my husband] received from February 26 until his passing on April 23, 2015. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I kept notes and tried to write down all of the wonderful things that happened. I have decided that I will just list all of the special people at the end of this letter. I hope that they and their supervisor are made aware of this letter. They all truly did “Go That Extra Mile” in [his] care. True care and compassion is not something that can be faked; if a person shows compassion, it is genuine.

My family and I have been involved with UTMB Galveston since moving to the island in 1992. I was even employed at the university for several years. Our family has watched UTMB transition through those years, and I can honestly say that the level of care my husband received exceeded all of our expectations. There have been times over this 20-year period where as a patient, you felt more like a project or an obligation. That is not the case now. The care that my husband received was professional and compassionate. There were so many times that the staff took time to include [the family] not only in his care, but to show genuine concern and compassion for us as well. This meant so much to us over our 57-day journey.

The continuity of his care was evident all along his stay, from the ER staff to the respiratory care team, the SICU staff and trauma staff. I saw firsthand how each team took time to explain to the oncoming shift what had happened and what was planned. One thing that truly impressed me was how a critically ill patient is transported to radiology or other procedures. It was always a comfort to know that my husband was never alone through all of this—he always had at least one person that was dedicated to him and his care. That means more than you can know to a family member.

I was with my husband from the first day to the last. I was anxious as it was explained to me what was wrong and what we were to expect. My anxiety became better controlled once I got to witness the trauma team and SICU staff in action. We were told that the first weekend was critical—of course, this was initially after the first surgery. I appreciated the physician’s reluctance to label my husband as critical; unfortunately, he was critical from the beginning to the end. We had a few days of consciousness—that was always a blessing to him with his eyes open. They did a great job of keeping him pain free.

There was one night shortly after his initial surgery that he developed a problem, and we all had to rush to the hospital. A wonderful nurse, Rachel Murphy, held my hands and told me that we were in a marathon, not a sprint. Those words were just what I needed to hear. I will be forever in her debt; those words helped me through this ordeal more than she will ever know.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Janie Pietramale, the outstanding volunteer that handles the surgery waiting room. Janie took the time to get to know us. Her words were always comforting and filled with such genuine compassion. She deserves recognition for the positive impact she has on families at such a stressful time in their lives.

The parking garage staff of Garage 1 showed compassion beyond the scope of their jobs. When you are in the hospital for 57 days, you start making friends all over the place. When they would ask how that day went, I knew that it was sincere and not small talk. Many times, I was able to drive away with a little extra comfort from one of these beautiful ladies.

As with any situation, there is always room for improvement. There seemed to be a delay in medication as it was ordered and delivered. I know that logistically things have to be done, but more than once during our stay, my husband was waiting for medication to be brought up from the pharmacy. Hopefully this is something you can look into. There was also a problem and delay with his initial Wound-Vac. I am not sure of the problems or delays, but hopefully this can be corrected before another patient needs one.

I believe it would be beneficial for there to be a counseling room set up near the surgery waiting area. As it is now, physicians or staff come out to let the family know how the surgery went. It is discussed openly where everyone can hear. This was not a problem for me personally, but I did hear some comments about it being discussed so openly.

I want to close this letter with my sincere thanks to everyone involved in my husband’s care. Our final day came on April 23, 2015. Dr. Lance Griffin and his team and SICU staff did such a wonderful job in helping us through that final day. [My husband] was able to go peacefully and pain free with us by his side. This was their final act of compassion when we needed it the most.

The opportunities for improvement are welcomed comments as we look for ways we can make Health System operations better for our patients. I know that our pharmacy team is doing all that it can to minimize delays in medications arriving on the floor. The same is true for getting needed patient equipment to the floor. In addition, the comment about the counseling room speaks to the need for the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, because we have been able to incorporate sorely needed support spaces into the design that simply are not available in the John Sealy Hospital. While we do have a private consultation room near the surgery waiting area, it is clear that we need to do a better job of communicating this resource.

Letters like this are so important because they allow us to look at what we are doing well and do more of it. At the same time, it gives us a chance to see the care we deliver through our patient’s eyes and find ways we can improve.

A final word: in light of this week’s inclement weather, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who truly went above and beyond to ensure our patients and families received the very best care and service. They truly put their trust in us to do so, and I know this is a reflection of the work you do each day. Thank you for working together to work wonders!

 

At UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Saturday, I attended the annual American Heart Association’s Black Tie & Boots Gala. Each year, the event raises funds for research of a specific disease or condition, and a guest speaker—who is a survivor—tells the story of their own experience. In addition to cardiovascular-related research, donations raised at local American Heart Association events help fund clinician scientists who are leading the efforts in stroke research, and that is what the gala supported this year.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke, and every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain; it occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

This year, Sharon Bourg, a UTMB nurse in the Emergency Department, was the guest speaker and shared her very moving personal story.

One day, while caring for a patient in the Emergency Room, Sharon had difficulty putting the blood pressure cuff on her patient’s arm. This was something she’d never had trouble with before. The patient noticed Sharon was having difficulty and that she did not seem well. The patient asked her if she was feeling okay, but Sharon didn’t realize anything was seriously wrong. She felt as though the words she spoke were coming out just fine. But they were not. A moment later, Sharon collapsed and was unable to speak or move. It was the patient who alerted the ER staff by hitting the nurse call button. Immediately Sharon was surrounded by her co-workers, who began working quickly to save her life.

Heart Gala 060615-4260 (1)

Christine Wade, ED Nursing Director, and Sharon Bourg, ED Nurse at the 2015 AHA Gala

Fortunately, today Sharon has no residual signs of her stroke, because she quickly received the necessary and very important care she needed. There is a saying: “Time is brain.” Once a stroke begins, neurons in the brain start to rapidly deteriorate, and victims lose 10 percent of salvageable brain for every 15 minutes that they go untreated. Therefore, limiting the extent of damage requires urgent, expert evaluation and treatment.

Sharon and other patients who come to UTMB are in good hands when it comes to stroke care—after all, at UTMB, we don’t just save our patient’s lives, we save the lives of our own! Precious moments awaiting treatment do not have to be wasted thanks to the expertise and training of the staff of our Emergency Room and the Stroke, Neurovascular and Neurointerventional team. In fact, UTMB is a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center, and the team is working hard to become a Comprehensive Center.

It is because of the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke that Sharon agreed to share her story with the UTMB community, as well as at the AHA fundraising event. If you think you are having a stroke or notice the following signs in someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call for help right away! F.A.S.T. is:

  • Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Since 2012, the American Heart Association (AHA) has raised over $1 million through donations in Galveston. In the video below, Christine Wade, ED Nurse Director, comments on the tremendous strides that have been made in the treatment and care of stroke patients over the years, thanks in great part to the funding received from organizations like AHA. Please take a moment to watch Sharon’s story and learn about the outstanding teamwork at UTMB that saved her life. If you’re interested in supporting the continued research efforts of stroke and heart disease, please visit the website of the American Heart Association or American Stroke Association.

If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout six years ago, my daughter, Shannon, decided she wanted to train for the Houston Marathon. Prior to this, she had never run even a half-marathon, so she knew she would need to start training a year ahead of time in order to be ready. She also asked her husband, who was a dedicated runner, to run alongside her the day of the marathon. When I asked her why she wanted Wes to run with her, she said she wanted him there to encourage her to continue when she reached the point in the race where she would want to quit.

The race went as planned, and about two-thirds of the way into it, she “hit the wall”. At this point, Wes encouraged her to keep going and continued to do so until the finish line of the race was literally in sight. They both finished the race! No records were set that day, but the personal satisfaction of finishing what she started has given Shannon a great sense of personal satisfaction. She later told me that had it not been for Wes, she probably would not have finished the race. Meanwhile, Wes told me the satisfaction he got from helping Shannon meet her personal goal was very satisfying to him, as well. Together, they were able to go far!

UTMB’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Selwyn Rogers, recently shared a quote that resonated with me. It’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Shannon’s vision to run and finish a marathon was supported by her strategy to surround herself by someone with whom she had a strong relationship and who she knew she could depend on for support during her journey to the finish line. Meanwhile, individual abilities like Wes’s endurance and supporting nature also contributed to their shared success in completing an amazing challenge together.

When we set out on a journey, whether it is in pursuit of something we wish to achieve individually or as a team, it’s easy to start off feeling very ambitious. But it’s also important to realize what will be required to sustain our progress. There are a couple of important things about success that Shannon’s experience illustrated to me: it’s important to prepare for our journey, whatever that may be, and recognize when we will need the help of others; and, if we don’t pace ourselves accordingly or don’t have the right support in place along the way, we may either run out of steam or feel like quitting before we reach our goal.

Discovering what we can accomplish as an individual (that is, our strengths and our talent) is something that we can use to support others on our team and encourage them along. Our own personal gifts can often help everyone go further and make the collective achievement even greater. Success is more than simply defining our goals and then determining how we can most rapidly achieve them with the greatest odds of success. It’s about constantly surrounding ourselves with amazing, talented people and building deep relationships with them along the way to success.

These are keys points to remember as we travel The Road Ahead!