Random Acts of Kindness

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemYesterday, I had one of those experiences when someone shares a random act of kindness with you, and it suddenly brightens your day. I had left my office at noon to run an errand during my lunch break. Afterward, I had a little time to spare, so I decided to drive through McDonald’s to get a Diet Coke.

When I pulled in, I was pleased the line was short. I placed my order and then waited in line to get to the first window to pay for my order. As I pulled up to the window, I reached to offer my money to the cashier, who turned to me and said he didn’t need my money—the person in the truck ahead of me had paid for my order.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “Completely serious,” said the cashier.

I looked at the truck ahead of me and wondered if the person inside was anyone I recognized. I waved and the driver waved back. The couple in the truck received part of their order and then pulled forward to wait for the rest.

After I got my Diet Coke, I pulled forward beside the truck, leaving my car window open. As I looked inside, I realized I had no idea who these people were. In fact, they were complete strangers. I thanked them and told them that they had made my day. Theirs was such a kind and unexpected gesture, I felt like I might start crying. The gentleman in the truck asked me not to cry, or he would start crying, too! We laughed, I thanked them again and drove back to work.

I thought about this moment off and on for the rest of the afternoon. It was a small gesture, but it made my day. Why? I think that the surprise of it happening certainly made an impression. It was a big deal because they did not know me. For the couple, I believe, it was a simple gesture of kindness.

In thinking about this random act of kindness, I did a web search and learned that there is actually a “Random Acts of Kindness Foundation” directed to improving our schools, communities and workplaces. Who would have thought? But it is filled with great ideas about taking actions that promote kindness. While not an exhaustive list, ten of their ideas struck a chord with me because they are something we can all do at work. They include:

  1. Be a positive person.
  2. Bring a treat to a co-worker.
  3. Let someone go in front of you in the cafeteria line.
  4. Eat lunch with someone new.
  5. Write a positive note to a co-worker.
  6. Give affirmation; be generous with your kind words that affirm those around you.
  7. Pay the tab for the person behind you (maybe the people in the truck read this!).
  8. Give the benefit of the doubt.
  9. Pat someone on the back.
  10. Help a co-worker.

I also learned that there is a Worldwide Random Acts of Kindness Day on November 13, 2015.

Yesterday was a powerful day for me, because it reminded me that we all can do better by one another, whether among strangers, patients, hospital visitors or co-workers, by showing kindness. It doesn’t mean that we have to spend a lot of money or even much time. All it requires is that we start each day thinking about one act of kindness we will share with someone else so that we make their day. Imagine how UTMB’s patient satisfaction scores would soar if everyone shared a kind gesture with a patient or visitor!

I have decided we should not wait for November 13 to start. We should start today. We can surprise a co-worker, patient or their family member with a random act of kindness—something as simple as a handwritten note, a compliment, or a verbal “pat on the back”. We can do this for anyone we sense could use a little more kindness in their day. With one random act of kindness at a time, we can make UTMB an even better place. Who knows, we could make it a habit to uplift at least one patient and co-worker every day. How great would that be?

What random acts of kindness you have either shared or received. I’d love to hear them. Send me an email!



Cover your mouth, disinfect your hands, and hide your children!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIt’s official—it’s cold and flu season. Although we are only in the first weeks of the season, the first case of the flu in our area was recently reported in League City. Now is the time to guard yourself against illness. Flu season usually peaks between December and February.

The last time I had the flu was in January 2014. I woke up on my birthday with respiratory symptoms, fever and chills. I pulled up the calendar on my phone and saw it was full of many important meetings that day. I decided that I really needed to be present, so I pulled myself together and went to work. Much to my chagrin, the folks with whom I work immediately chastised me for coming to work sick. Did I intend to infect everyone, they asked? I always insist that people not come to work when contagiously ill, but that day, I had failed in setting the example! Although I tried to power my way through the day, I quickly ended up back home and in bed.

Most of us are familiar with the usual symptoms of the cold and flu, which include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough. However, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses, and flu symptoms are more intense than the common cold. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. While colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations, the flu can be dangerous—even life threatening, especially in children younger than five and adults 65 years of age or older.

Heightened attention is given to flu prevention each year, because the virus spreads easily and the severity of the virus from season to season can be difficult to predict. A person may be contagious an entire day before they begin to experience flu symptoms, and once a person has the flu, coughing can spread the virus up to six feet away. It is possible to remain contagious anywhere from five to seven days after becoming sick, and children may remain contagious even longer.

That’s why now is the time to ramp up prevention habits, like frequently washing or sanitizing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—these are common ways viruses enter the body. Other good health habits, like eating a balanced diet, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep also can help protect you from illness. However, the best defense against catching the flu is vaccination.

Getting vaccinated before the flu hits is important, because it takes nearly two weeks for full protection to set in. Some of you may recall that last year’s flu vaccine didn’t protect against all of the strains of the flu. This year’s vaccines have been updated with two new flu strains and should be much more effective. While flu vaccination is especially important for employees who routinely work in patient care areas, I think it’s safe to say that none of us are interested in suffering in bed this season!

UTMB’s Employee Health Clinic offers free flu shots to employees, retirees and volunteers (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., no appointment necessary). Employees who work in Correctional Managed Care (CMC) will have specific instructions on where they can go as a UTMB employee to receive their flu shot—contact your manager or director for details. Anyone can get vaccinated at an affordable cost at most local pharmacies or by making an appointment with their primary care provider.

If you do get sick this season, whether with a cold or flu, do your best to stay home until you are no longer contagious. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you need to see a doctor, please remember that UTMB offers employees convenient, same-day access to primary care through the Employee Access 2-Care program, which guarantees a primary care appointment within 24 hours.

To schedule an Access 2-Care appointment, employees can simply dial 2-CARE (ext. 2-2273) while on campus or (409) 772-2273. Let the access representative know you are a UTMB employee to receive the 24-hour guarantee. Please note that your wait time may exceed the guaranteed timeframe if you want to see a specific physician. In that case, you may either wait to see the requested physician or make an appointment with another physician within the guaranteed time frame. Note that specialty care appointments are also available through the program (in a 14-day appointment window), and no referral is required to set up an appointment with a specialist.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Make it a flu-free season, and get your flu shot today. If you do come down with a cold or flu this season, remember UTMB’s Employee Access 2-Care Program is at your service!


It is always darkest before the dawn.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“It is always darkest before the dawn.” Attributed to Thomas Fuller, an English theologian and historian, this is a quote I have heard as long as I can remember. Scientifically, the darkest part of the night is actually at midnight, when the surface of the earth has rotated 180 degrees away from the sun. Nevertheless, the sentiment of “darkest before dawn” resonates with many people, because the words are understood as encouragement during difficult times, giving hope and inspiration to take the next step until a better day or time arrives.

I have thought often about this quote in the context of what I now jokingly call my “year of the knee”. I have written in past Friday Flash entries about the knee surgery I had in March, and then my fall in June when I broke my leg, and after that, the rehabilitation I have experienced on my journey to be able to walk normally and without pain again. All throughout last week and this past weekend, I wondered if I would ever be able to enjoy walking on the beach, traveling to see new places, or sitting on the floor with my grandchildren again.

Despite the exercises and rehabilitation sessions, my progress seemed to be at a standstill. This past Saturday, the day after my physical therapy session, I woke up in even more pain, rather than less. I was starting to finally feel a little discouraged. However, I powered through my exercises, and on Monday when I woke up, the pain had subsided and my function was better than it had been any time since June.

So far this week, I have been walking better and without much discomfort. I am beginning to see the dawn! Although I would prefer to never go through this experience again, it has had its bright points. I am appreciative of so many things I can now do that just three months ago were not possible. I have had time to catch up with family and friends, because I have been restricted from doing the usual activities that often filled my time on nights and weekends. I reflect somewhat sheepishly that it took this injury and my limited mobility to make me appreciate so many things I had taken for granted before.

In many ways, my experience is symbolic of the environment in which we work today. Just like our peer organizations, UTMB is undergoing a tremendous amount of change—there is little doubt about it! Many of our initiatives have resulted from external forces over which we have little control, like multiple pay-for-performance programs or the implementation of the ICD-10 classification system. While these activities have often been a lot of work, sometimes adding stress to our day, and they haven’t always come at times when we felt like we were ready to address their intricacy, they are designed to improve quality of care and we must participate in them.

Meanwhile, there are initiatives that we have intentionally chosen to carry out at UTMB, because we understand that in order to be well positioned for the future, we must be proactive and strategic. We have had to learn a lot in a short amount of time to accomplish many of the challenging goals we set. In taking on new responsibilities and raising the bar in many ways, we have had to start doing many things differently, like working across teams and creating new partnerships. In the past year alone, we’ve opened new clinic locations, consolidated service locations, and partnered with additional community practices to better coordinate care. We successfully closed fiscal year 2015 with a positive margin, while our inpatient discharges increased by 11 percent and our outpatient encounters have grown by 16 percent. In just a matter of months, we will begin activation of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital and open the League City Hospital. We are doing exceptionally well compared to many other academic medical centers in the country!

There are days that are tough, but building our future on a strong foundation is crucial, and knowing success is just around the bend is what helps us push through. Soon, we will see the daybreak—we will make the quantum leap in quality and safety that we are working toward, we will begin caring for our patients and their families in our beautiful new hospitals, and we will continue forging new partnerships to better coordinate care in the communities we serve.

When we approach changes and challenges confidently and with a determined spirit—even though it means sometimes stepping outside of our comfort zone, we grow. Through the new knowledge we gain, we are able to make valuable contributions wherever our paths lead.

Thank you to everyone in every role at UTMB Health for the work you do each day to make our organization an excellent place for patients to receive care!

darkest before dawn

Repair the Roof When the Sun Is Shining

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemPresident John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

It’s true—most of the time, we don’t go about our day with an expectation that an adverse event will occur. But unfortunately, sometimes there are emergency situations, whether or not we are prepared for them. And sometimes in health care, people make mistakes that result in patient harm, despite having the best intentions when caring for someone. This is why it is so important that at UTMB, we devote ourselves every day to promoting patient safety, environmental safety, proper patient identification, medication safety, infection control and effective communication, whatever our role may be.

For some time now, the Health System has been on high alert, busily preparing for our Joint Commission re-accreditation survey. However, the preparations and safety measures on which we are currently so acutely focused are things we should always be doing to ensure the safety of our patients and staff. Whether it is focusing on prevention, communication, processes, documentation, or ensuring pathways are clear in case of emergency, we must always be alert. Our re-accreditation survey window, which extends through the next two months, has been a great opportunity to reinvigorate our current efforts to ensure we are providing the safest possible care for our patients, families and one another.

Just as achieving high reliability in health care is a daily endeavor, our successful completion of the survey will require the cooperation and support of every provider and staff member. After the survey, our competitors, affiliates, managed care and insurance companies, referring physicians and, most impor­tantly, our patients and their families will be able to read the details of our performance. I believe the results they see will truly reflect that every UTMB faculty member, clinician and employee at every level is committed to providing excellent patient care!

Why is a good accreditation survey so important? The Joint Commission accreditation survey is a nationwide seal of approval indicating that UTMB meets high quality and safety perfor­mance standards. It says we deliver the best care to all of our patients in a safe environment. Therefore, we must remain committed to zero patient harm, a culture of safety, and continual process improvement. Never ignore or tolerate unsafe conditions, behaviors and practices, and when or if we see something that could be unsafe or cause harm, we must communicate clearly and close the loop on conversations with our team. If needed, escalate issues. It’s simply the right thing to do for our patients.

Our success on the survey will require everyone’s familiarity with Joint Commission requirements in their particular area, and I have full confidence in our teams that we will be fully prepared for the survey. Please review the materials provided on UTMB’s Joint Commission website, including readiness checklists and the preparedness handbook. If you are a manager or supervisor, review employee readiness tips with your team when you have your weekly relay meetings, especially handbook sections “How to Participate in the TJC Survey” and “Other Helpful Hints for the Survey” on pages 12-13.

Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes once said, “To be prepared is half the victory.” Perhaps the other half is to remain vigilant!

If you have questions about Joint Commission standards, please contact Janet DuBois, Associate Director of Accreditation. For more information on Joint Commission Accreditation preparedness in your area, please visit http://intranet.utmb.edu/qhs/TheJointCommission

Thank you for your dedication to delivering excellent care and service to our patients and families!