Writing Our New Chapter

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast weekend, I had the great privilege of returning to my hometown to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Illinois-Springfield graduation ceremony. This was the largest graduating class in the history of the school, so it was a truly momentous occasion for the university as the graduates walked across the stage to receive their bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Many of these graduates were the first in their family to earn a degree, while many others would now begin the career of their dreams.

On the flight home, I had a chance to reflect on the events of the weekend and the incredible experience I had. I was moved by the historic significance of the university’s growth, as well as the accomplishments of the students and the growth they had personally experienced. In many ways, their growth is similar to what we have experienced at UTMB Health since Hurricane Ike.

It was only a few days after the storm that we reopened the doors of our mainland clinics. Months later, we reopened John Sealy Hospital on our Galveston campus, as well as TDCJ Hospital Galveston. From that moment forward, we began a journey of recovery and renewal. Since then, we have experience tremendous growth. In time, what began as a chain of small clinics scattered about the mainland has flourished. Now, we have a comprehensive system of beautiful, spacious, centrally-located clinics. Today, we are a health system ready to meet the primary and specialty care needs of the Southeast Texas region. In the past two years alone, we have acquired a community hospital in Angleton Danbury, opened Jennie Sealy Hospital in Galveston, and in just a two weeks, we will open League City Hospital to become a five-hospital system.

In the same way I was welcomed at the commencement ceremony by the faculty, administration and students, UTMB has been welcomed into the communities we serve. From Alvin to League City, Webster, South Shore Harbor and beyond, businesses and community members have welcomed our clinicians and staff to their neighborhoods. This region is one of the fastest growing in the nation, but previously, there was limited access to physicians. Now, people in these communities have access to the care and medical expertise they need to stay healthy—and it is all close to home.

When UTMB Health opens League City Hospital on Saturday, June 4 at 8:00 a.m., it will be another historic moment for our organization. It is the first hospital we have built on the mainland, and the staff members who will work there are already trained and preparing the hospital to care for patients. Our colleagues in Materials Management, Business Operations & Facilities, Campus Security, Information Services, Purchasing and so many other areas are busily working so we can open on schedule. And as always, our colleagues in Environmental Services are working hard to ensure the facility is sparkling when we open our doors.

Opening League City Hospital will be different from opening Jennie Sealy Hospital. This time, we will not be moving patients; instead, our patients will come to us. Initially, the first patients will come to us through the emergency room over the weekend. Then, on Monday, June 6, we will begin admitting patients from our local clinics to the new League City Hospital, many of whom will need surgical procedures that require a brief hospital stay. The new hospital will be a welcome addition to the League City community, because there are so many UTMB patients in the area who already see UTMB physicians, but prefer to be hospitalized in the area, as well. Now this is possible! This is an exciting moment for UTMB Health!

In my commencement speech, I advised the new graduates that they were about to embark on a new chapter in their lives—the pages of this new chapter were blank, ready for them to write their own story from this point forward—this was to be their own story and no one else’s. As I thought about the words I imparted to them, I realized how much those same words correspond to our growth at UTMB Health.

I reminded the students that they alone are in charge of shaping their story, and so is UTMB. Just as I reminded them to remain focused on their goals and to not allow themselves to be swept off course by temporary events or distractions, UTMB Health is what it is today because we decided to shape our future, and not let the events of the moment shape us.

Just as I told them to move forward boldly and to pay no mind to the naysayers they encounter, we at UTMB did not listen to the naysayers who said it was not prudent to rebuild UTMB on Galveston Island. If we had listened, there would be no League City Campus, either!

Just as I told them that it is okay to step out of their comfort zones and take a few chances, we at UTMB stepped out of our comfort zone and we took a leap of faith. There are so many times when the seemingly impossible becomes possible through hard work, determination and resilience. I remember the physicians who supported UTMB by splitting their practices between the island and the mainland to create a new set of patients who could benefit from our exceptional care. I think about the many people who spent countless hours planning the new clinics, getting them ready to open, and delivering UTMB’s great care with exceptional compassion.

I know there were times when many of us felt frustrated and less than optimistic about the future. This reminds me of the words of Ralph Marston, a motivational speaker, who said that when we feel like we are ready to walk away from something, it is then that we must “redirect the substantial energy of our frustration and turn it into positive, unstoppable determination”—that is when our experience transforms into something good.

The new League City Hospital is a symbol of the experience and determination of the UTMB faculty members, clinicians, staff and administrators who, on September 14, 2008, decided to rebuild UTMB Health. In the depths of despair, UTMB stayed true to its tripartite mission to educate future health professionals, discover life-saving cures, and deliver exceptional care to patients. We rebuilt UTMB stronger and more resilient than ever. Let’s take a moment to stop and celebrate what we all have accomplished!

If I bought a thank you card to match the size of my appreciation, it wouldn’t fit in your mailbox!

As we approach the end of Nurses’ Week & Health System Week, I want to remind each of you of how important you are to UTMB Health. Our success as a healthcare provider depends on the positive interactions you have each day with our patients and visitors, your willingness to do what is in the best interest of the patient, and your unrelenting quest to deliver the best care to our patients.

Last week, I had a firsthand opportunity to witness the wonders you work every day when one of my family members became a patient. The week became one of comparison and contrast. Our experience started out at another hospital about an hour away. Without going into the details of that experience, I will say that there was a point where my family member wondered out loud if the nurses, technicians, doctors and other staff even cared about the people who were there to receive care.

I asked my family member why they felt that way, and I wholeheartedly agreed with their response. In a waiting room jammed with people, there was no communication. Staff sat around and visited or looked at their phones and never communicated with the patients who were waiting to be seen. It took almost six hours to get to the exam room from the waiting room. During that time, the only communication we had with anyone was when someone from our family actively went up to the desk to ask when we might be seen. Each time the answer was the same: “I have no idea. It’s busy tonight.” It was true—the place was so busy, patients were being placed in rooms that had not even been cleaned. In short, it truly seemed like no one cared about the patients or even cared about their job.

The next morning, we chose to come to UTMB, and in contrast, my family member’s experience was light-years apart from the experience of the night before. After we got the patient settled into the room, several nurses, physicians and residents came into the room to get things started. My family member commented to me that they were so relieved to be at UTMB: “It is obvious that they really care about their patients. I always feel well cared for and safe when I am here.”

Naturally, I could not help but wonder if the fact that my name was “Sollenberger” was part of the reason for this service, but as I watched other patients in the area, what I witnessed makes me feel certain that the staff members here treat all patients alike—with respect, compassion and concern for their privacy and safety.

To me, it is odd that a patient would even have to be concerned about whether or not other people are eavesdropping in on what they are telling their caregivers. It is odd to me that a patient would ever have to worry about their safety while in the hospital. It is concerning to me that a patient should have to be concerned about acquiring an infection from dirty rooms, soiled linens, or from people entering their room without washing their hands. It is concerning to me that a patient would have to worry about whether or not they have a voice in their care.

At the other hospital, all of these concerns were valid. At UTMB, they were not. At UTMB, each person treated our patient with the utmost courtesy and attention. Each person who came in contact with our patient followed the proper protocols for patient identification, each person performed hand hygiene, and each person explained in detail what to expect and asked if the patient had any questions. Each interaction with a nurse or physician made it clear that we were at the center of their work and decision-making. As support staff interacted with the patient—whether when cleaning the room, transporting the patient, or delivering meals—it was clear that they genuinely cared about the patient and took their role in the care process very seriously.

Fortunately, we were able to leave the hospital last Friday. We are so relieved that our family member is on the mend. However, we simply cannot forget the feeling of care and compassion that each person with whom we interacted demonstrated as they went about doing an exceptional job. What will not leave us is the sense of confidence we had in the total care experience. It simply was the BEST!

So, to every person who cares for or interacts with our patients, THANK YOU! Thank you for blending compassion with your care. Thank you for showing respect for the patient, regardless of circumstances. Thank you for stopping to listen, even when you are busy beyond belief. But most of all, thank you for treating your work at UTMB as more than a job or a paycheck. You are setting the bar high for all healthcare professionals in the Greater Houston area. You are making UTMB known as a place where everyone truly works together to work wonders.

HAPPY HEALTH SYSTEM WEEK! HAPPY NURSES’ WEEK! And because I cannot say it enough, thank you!

Thank You

Thanks for all you do…Happy Nurses & Health System Week!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemToday marks the beginning of 2016 Nurses & Health System Week. At UTMB, we celebrate this week each year in appreciation of everything our Health System employees do to deliver excellent patient care and to demonstrate compassion for our patients and their loved ones.

National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6 and ends on May 12 (Florence Nightingale’s birthday), and National Hospital Week (May 8-14) celebrates hospitals and the women and men who support the health and wellbeing of their communities through dedication and compassionate care from the heart.

Whatever your role, as a member of the healthcare team, you will touch a life or a life will touch yours every day. In fact, a patient recently said to me, as he compared his experience at UTMB in the new Jennie Sealy Hospital to another leading hospital: “I feel like people truly care about me here.”

This week is an opportunity to thank all of the dedicated individuals – physicians, nurses, therapists, engineers, food service workers, volunteers, administrators and so many more – for your contributions. I would like to thank our colleagues in nursing, who have organized a series of events that will occur beginning today and continue throughout the coming week to thank our employees in the Health System and in Correctional Managed Care (CMC) for the work they do each day.

Events include a breakfast for the Health System and CMC, special events, cake and ice cream (in honor of Florence Nightingale’s birthday), and a blood drive. All week long, executive leadership will also visit different units and clinics as they “walk a mile” in the shoes of our nursing staff. Click here to view the schedule of events.

I hope you will enjoy the activities they have planned that celebrate and recognize YOU for the incredible work you do each and every day on behalf of UTMB!