An attitude of gratitude reinforces our value of compassion.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, we wrapped up UTMB’s triennial Joint Commission Survey. It went very well! I would like to thank everyone at every level and area of the organization for your hard work and dedication to delivering the safest and highest quality patient care at UTMB.

The survey experience was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellence of our people and the outstanding work you do every day for our patients and their families. The survey process is not only about searching for areas for improvement, it’s also about recognizing best practices and things we do well, and the Joint Commission representatives commented on multiple occasions about how engaged and collaborative our staff is in their work, how everyone with whom they spoke was knowledgeable, and that those interviewed answered questions confidently.

I hope you all take a moment to congratulate one another on your teams as well as those who support you in your work. Team success is the effort of everyone working together, with our individual strengths and talents combined. Working together is the only way to deliver exceptional and comprehensive care for our patients. However, in the fast-paced working environment of health care, it can often be easy to forget to say “thank you”, particularly when something has happened so often that it has become routine, or we assume people already know how thankful we are for them.

As we usher in the holidays, with Thanksgiving approaching in a few short weeks, let’s focus on a season of gratitude, not only by acknowledging what we ourselves are grateful for, but by sharing our feelings of gratitude with the people who help us do our best work each day, including those with whom we work directly and the individuals who support our work from behind the scenes or from other departments.

I think we can all affirm that aside from the satisfaction we derive from doing work about which we are passionate because we know that it makes a difference for our patients and families, there may be nothing better than feeling like we truly make a difference — that we contribute unique value to the whole, and that we’re recognized for it. By the same token, when we take the time to express our heart-felt appreciation to others for something, it boosts their spirit, passion, and purpose. As a result, we feel more confident in our work, and we feel more energized and motivated. When we appreciate one another, it changes the atmosphere in which we work. In turn, that translates into how our patients and families also perceive the environment. Showing appreciation supports and reinforces our value of compassion.

Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Each day, we can acknowledge something big or small, personal, professional, or global for which we are grateful. As we practice this, we will begin to cultivate the experience of gratitude, and I suspect each of us will notice all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle positive changes in how others relate to us, in how we feel about our lives, and in how we weather difficulties. Just as ripples spread out when a pebble is dropped into water, this will have a far-reaching effect on our value of compassion.

I remember reading an article a couple of years ago that said it is easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others. To that end, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

There are many ways to practice gratitude. The following is a collection of simple suggestions we can start doing today as we begin a season of thankfulness, both for ourselves and toward others:

  • Open your eyes to see the good things in your life. We tend to see the bad things that happen in our life but overlook the good things. Open your eyes and be observant of those good things—even small things matter.
  • Practice appreciation by starting with yourself. Take a few moments at the end of the day to ask yourself this simple question: “What can I rightly feel proud of today?”
  • Make it a priority to notice what others are doing right. When you see someone doing something special or that makes a positive impact, let them know. What positive qualities, behaviors and contributions are there among the members of your team? What is it that each of them uniquely brings to the table? Don’t forget to thank the people who don’t always get thanked—every area has a high-profile person, but what about the individuals working behind the scenes?
  • Be appreciative. The more specific you can be about what you value about someone else and what is meaningful to them, the more positive your impact on that person is likely to be. A handwritten note makes a bigger impression than an email or a passing comment, but better any one of them than nothing at all. The great philosopher Voltaire once said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
  • Focus on giving. You will be grateful if your mind focuses on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Giving to others reminds us of how much we have to offer, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Consider making a donation to the SECC campaign this year – the collective power of our contributions can make a big difference!
  • Celebrate your successes. Set a time at regular intervals during the year, and at the end of an especially difficult day, to celebrate the achievement of your unit, clinic or department. Share acknowledgment and gratefulness of great things done by great people, review and learn the secrets of your successes and the lessons of your disappointments.

Thank you to every one of you for the wonderful work you do in support of one another, our patients and families each day. And remember, today is World Kindness Day! What a great day to start!


The Joint Commission Survey

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemToday we wrapped up UTMB’s triennial Joint Commission Survey! The surveyors have departed, and we now have our preliminary report of the survey findings. Before I highlight the week, however, I want to take time to thank everyone who participated in the survey. From the people who rounded with the surveyors every day, to the physicians and staff who were part of rounding and formal interviews, to those who ensured the facilities were clean and ready to be surveyed, and those who worked so hard behind the scenes to get all of the materials that the surveyors requested, THANK YOU!

A survey involving seven different surveyors over the course of a week is no small feat. Simply put, the surveyors were everywhere. They visited the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus, many of the off-island clinics, all of the island clinics, the Clinical Services Wing, the John Sealy Annex, Hospital Galveston, and the John Sealy Hospital. They held many scheduled interviews on topics like data management, medication management, and infection control management. They met with all of the Clinical Chairs, many other physicians, Human Resources, and so many others.

In every instance, the surveyors commented on how engaged our staff were, how knowledgeable and competent everyone is, and how welcomed you made them feel. As one surveyor said, “The excellence, transparency and courtesy of the staff is evident everywhere.” Two of the surveyors even got hugs from a volunteer and a technician in Hospital Galveston, while another surveyor was greeted by a volunteer who jumped up from their post and with a big smile on her face said, “We’ve been waiting for you!”

It would be impossible to name all of the areas where the surveyors visited and could not identify any findings. As the week progressed, a surveyor who said, “no findings” at the end of their report became somewhat commonplace, but always welcomed!

I do want to share some comments we heard throughout the week that are representative of how the survey went:

  • The facilities surveyor commented that with a campus so large and so complex, with so many square feet, old buildings, and connections to new buildings, he would have expected an excellent survey to have anywhere from five to eight findings. In our case, however, there were only two findings. Kudos to the folks from Business Operations and Facilities—you did a great job!
  • Perioperative Services is a very large area to survey. In fact, it takes almost an entire day. The surveyor for this area had “no findings”. This is my ninth Joint Commission survey as a leader, and I have never, ever had that result. The surveyor, who is a surgeon, even commented that he has done surveys for the Joint Commission for six years, and he has never had such a result. The entire team of staff and physicians who work in Perioperative Services did an amazing job!
  • The surveyor loved our Sterile Processing Department. From the new facility to the staff, they were impressed with the state-of-the art operation.
  • The nurse surveyor who visited the Angleton Danbury Campus had zero findings! Kudos to all of our colleagues in Angleton. They have been through so much change and training in the last fourteen months during their transition to UTMB, and surveyor of that campus pointed out what a great job they are doing. In fact, she said she has been to many hospitals undergoing similar integration processes, and one year later, staff at those hospitals did not yet seem to even realize that they were working for a new organization. I know how hard people have worked this past year to make the integration happen. Kudos to all of you!
  • The strength of our timeouts, which simply stated is the review of an essential checklist before starting a procedure, was referenced time and time again. Kudos to all of you for assuring that good timeouts happen for the safety of our patients. The surveyors were particularly impressed that the timeouts they saw were physician led and involved our patients.
  • The clinics surveyor commented on how he was normally accustomed to physicians leaving the clinic or not acknowledging him when he arrived. At UTMB, however, he commented that he was welcomed to the clinics, often by the team which included the physicians. Over and over, we heard how impressed the surveyors were of the “partnerships” that were evident between Health System employees and physicians. One surveyor said that UTMB was a “best practice” from his point of view.
  • Another surveyor gave kudos to those who are teaching the clinic staff how to use process improvement tools; it was clear that staff were aware of how to use these in their local process improvement initiatives.

As with any survey, there is still work we must do. Common themes include the following:

  • Doors not latching consistently.
  • Assuring that rooms that are supposed to have negative pressure do.
  • Defining clearer parameters for the nurses to administer pain medication.
  • Improving processes for high-level disinfection in areas outside of Sterile Processing, as well as better education of staff related to these areas.
  • Improved communication prior to the start of construction or remodeling in patient care areas.
  • Elevated humidity and temperature in some areas.

The surveyors departed this afternoon, leaving us with a preliminary report that they reviewed with leadership. This report, which contains the types of items mentioned above, will have limited access until it is finalized. We will have ten working days from today to challenge any of the findings with concrete data and/or documentation. After that, we will have 45 days from the time the report is finalized by The Joint Commission to develop or action plan for addressing any findings with direct impact, and 60 days for addressing any findings with an indirect impact to patient care.

I feel so proud of each and every one of you. You demonstrated to the surveyors the excellent care and compassion you provide each and every day to our patients. Your pride in UTMB and your knowledge was evident all throughout the week. Thank you for putting your best foot forward and helping the survey team to recognize the excellence of UTMB! I know all of us in leadership are so appreciative of the work that you do each and every day.

Thank you for your unrelenting commitment to excellence!