Everyone Can Help Someone

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs you may recall from previous Friday Flash Reports, I am the oldest of three children. When I reflect on my childhood growing up in Springfield, Illinois, I have many memories of my mother. She was, by any measure, a very busy woman—she had three kids, worked part-time, and took care of most of the “homemaking” responsibilities that were common in the 1950’s, like cleaning the house, doing laundry, getting kids to and from school and after school activities, and cooking three meals a day. To me, this was nothing short of amazing.

One day, she was particularly harried, trying to set the table and get dinner ready. My dad, who the three kids called “Stormin’ Norman” when he was out of ear shot, saw me in the dining room and told me to go into the kitchen and help my mother get dinner ready. Being the rebellious first child, I did not like to be told what to do, so I nonchalantly told my dad that helping mom with dinner was “not my job”.

This statement…was a mistake.

Stormin’ Norman took me firmly by the shoulders, made me look straight into his eyes, and he said, “When you see someone who needs help, you help them. That is always your job.”

I could feel my response to him building up inside me, but I decided it would not be in my best interest to talk back, so I went into the kitchen to help my mom. As I started to set the table without her asking me, tears ran down her face. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was just really tired and appreciated my help.

That wasn’t the most memorable moment of my life, and it was not particularly dramatic, but that experience became a defining moment in my life. Seeing my mom react so appreciatively to my efforts to help her out made me realize that I needed to be more in tune with what others were feeling so that I could do my part to help out.  I remember as I responded to my mom, “It’s no problem,” my dad’s eyes locked with mine.

I never told my mother that my gesture was really less than magnanimous and Dad had basically forced me into helping, but he never told on me either. Until she passed away in 2010, she always thought I was actually a better person at that point in my life than I really was. It was a great lesson to learn at a relatively young age, and ever since, I have always tried to take time to try to help others when I see the need.

A story that recently took place at the UTMB Health Multispecialty Center in League City illustrates that helping others out in times of great need comes naturally to Patient Services Specialists Vanessa Romero and Donna Papa. One evening, as they were leaving work a little later than usual, they were approached by some of the landscape workers. Two of the men were carrying their unconscious co-worker.

Vanessa and Donna immediately went into action—they called 911 and stayed with the men until the paramedics arrived. They knew that there still was a physician, Dr. Kevin Merkley, in the clinic, who was able to get the automated external defibrillator (AED) ready for the paramedics (an AED is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm). Throughout the experience, Vanessa was able to speak to the workers in Spanish and served as a translator between them and the paramedics.

The actions of Vanessa and Donna exemplify our Best Care motto, “Every patient, every time,” because no matter what, we should always be ready to treat those who come to us for care with the same respect and compassion as we would like to be treated, and as we would also want the most cherished of our loved ones to be treated.

Our opportunities to help those in need from day to day may not always be as dramatic as Vanessa and Donna’s story, but each and every one of us has a chance daily to be a light in someone’s world and to help them out. You might be on the team who helps make sure our phones work so patients can reach our hospitals and clinics, and through your work, you play a role in Best Care (I’d like to extend a special thank you to the Information Services team who helped out with a phone problem at the Angleton Danbury Campus earlier this week!). You might help ensure supplies are quickly unpacked and delivered to our inpatient units, and you play a role in Best Care. Or, you may simply help someone find their way to their destination—and YOU play a role in Best Care.

There are things we all can do each and every day, both big and small, that impact the experience of care at UTMB Health. Thank you, Vanessa and Donna, for modeling the way for Best Care!

Donna Papa and Vanessa Romero

Donna Papa and Vanessa Romero

Never get tired of doing little things for others…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is a saying, “Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their heart.”

This week, I would like to share a story about a couple of teams at UTMB who went above and beyond to deliver Best Care to one our patients. This story was submitted by Dennis Santa Ana, patient care facilitator in the Cardiothoracic Surgery/Vascular Surgery Unit. It was originally published in this month’s issue of Nursing News, but I thought it was such a wonderful and touching example of how two departments worked together as a team to make a special wish come true for one of our patients, I wanted to share it with you all in today’s Friday Flash Report.

During the latter part of May, a 46-year-old female was admitted to the Intermediate Specialty Care Unit in Jennie Sealy Hospital with a diagnosis of end-stage heart failure. She was placed on the highest priority waiting list for a heart transplant. However, this meant that she would need to remain hospitalized until a suitable heart donor was found.

During a casual conversation with her nurses, she mentioned the upcoming wedding of her son. She said she would love to attend the wedding, but she had dismissed the idea because of her current condition. Her nurses toyed with the idea that maybe they could have another wedding in the hospital chapel so she could be there, but planning it seemed extremely complicated.

However, the nurses in the unit were persistent about finding a solution. They had a meeting with their nurse manager, Dell Roach, and came up with a plan. In collaboration with the Information Services Department, they were able to stream the wedding live using an app so the patient could view the wedding on the big projection screen in the 9th Floor Jennie Sealy Hospital Conference Room.

The patient was so excited to hear the news. On the day of the wedding, she put on an elegant dress and two of her friends came to watch the wedding with her. Dell Roach and her staff brought food and refreshments, including a wedding cake. She was so thrilled to see the whole event unfold on the big screen.

I must admit, I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading this story. I think, as we focus on Best Care over the next year, sharing stories like this one demonstrates that no matter what your role—whether you deliver direct patient care or work in support of those who do—everyone at UTMB contributes to Best Care. Even if you work from behind the scenes or in areas such as Revenue Cycle Operations, the Access Center, or Business Operations & Facilities, you help create an exceptional care experience for our patients and their families.

These two teams were able to give a mother and her family the chance to share a very important life moment—and that is priceless.

Thank you for everything you do to deliver Best Care at UTMB Health!


Achieving Uncommon Success through Teamwork

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemA couple of things happened this week that (once again) made me realize what an incredible group of people we have working at UTMB. It also made me realize that when we work together as a team, we truly are able to work wonders.

On Wednesday afternoon, UTMB received a phone call notifying us that a number of patients were being transported to our trauma center, all of whom were in critical condition after having suffered a chemical exposure. Our team in the Emergency Department (ED) did an incredible job supporting these patients (and many others) that day. Their work was nothing short of extraordinary, both in effort and in outcome.

Yesterday, I saw Christine Wade, director of Patient Care Services and assistant chief nursing officer of the ED. I thanked her for the great work that her team had done the day before. Without hesitating, she told me how incredibly proud she was of each and every person who works in her department. However, she said what struck her most about this incident was how everyone at UTMB had joined together to work wonders in a time of crisis.

The minute the team received the call, Christine said they immediately sprang into action. ED Manager Pam Cruz took control of operations and EMS Coordinator Chad Connally managed the arrival and decontamination process of the patients. Meanwhile, ED Techs Donnie Walker and Preston Huff donned full decontamination gear to assist with the arrival and care of the patients in outside temperatures of well over 95 degrees.

Christine told me about the many other teams who came to the aid of the ED staff. With one quick call, Respiratory Therapy was on site and ready to respond. With another call, the Blocker Burn Unit (BBU) staff, physicians and fellows were working seamlessly, side-by-side with Trauma Surgeon Dr. Carlos Jimenez and the other clinicians and members of the ED patient care team. Meanwhile, the pharmacy had ensured the needed emergency medications were delivered within minutes.

Then, just after the first patients, more arrived who had also suffered the same chemical exposure. In the midst of this, another serious trauma arrived. The team did not miss a beat; they remained calm and well-organized, and rushed the trauma patient to the operating room.

Josette Armendariz-Batiste, director Patient Care Services and assistant chief nursing officer for the Adult Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Units, quickly obtained assistance from the ICUs to help care for all of the incoming critical patients. At the same time, Mike Mastrangelo, UTMB’s institutional preparedness program director, and his team were also on deck to help Clinical Operations Administrator Jennifer Casso coordinate resources, help the Patient Placement Center team find available beds, and assist the ED faculty in managing the flow of regular patients.

Christine told me that Jason Sheaffer, nurse manager of the BBU, worked late into the evening checking on patients across the multiple units. She said there were countless other staff members who also selflessly worked extra hours to ensure that the patients had everything they needed. Throughout it all, everyone maintained a positive can-do attitude. The ED never stopped seeing regular patients and did not go on diversion. She credited ED Charge Nurse Darrin Radzinski with helping keep everything running smoothly during the course of these events.

It was clear to me that in this time of crisis, UTMB physicians, nurses and staff had a singular focus—to provide the best care and comfort to patients in their greatest time of need. How humbling it was to hear the stories of this incredible work!

One might think this would be the ending of my report this week, but I must tell you, my amazement did not end with this story! That’s because while I visited with Christine, we were both in attendance at the annual Good Samaritan Foundation’s Nursing Excellence Awards, a luncheon held each year in the fall to honor outstanding nurses from hospitals throughout the greater Houston area. Much like the Olympics, the awardees are given gold, silver and bronze medals for their outstanding contributions to nursing.

As with past years, UTMB Health had many nominees and many, many awards. In fact, 27 UTMB nurses were awarded bronze medals. Two of only six gold medal recipients were also from UTMB—Odette Comeau, from the Health System, was recognized for excellence in Clinical Education and Dr. Carolyn Phillips, from the School of Nursing, was recognized for excellence in Nursing Education (Faculty). Both Odette and Carolyn had videos that were shown during the ceremony in which colleagues told of the outstanding work and contributions each has made to the field of nursing. It was a moving tribute to two outstanding nurses!

The events of the past two days reminded me that the greatest successes are rarely achieved by individuals alone; rather, they are achieved by teams of people who are all committed to a common cause and to making an impact that will last for years to come. It also reminded me of the importance of preparation on an individual level so that we can give our very best and contribute to the success of our team as a whole.

Uncommon situations require uncommonly prepared and talented people to be successful. At UTMB Health, you all have demonstrated this excellence time and time again, and this was certainly demonstrated on Wednesday. Just as you have done in the past, when called to action, you rose to the challenge. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the care of these patients and all of our patients, each and every day.

There is a saying, “Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean.”  When we focus individually on being well-prepared while working collectively as a well-orchestrated team, we truly do “work together to work wonders.”

'Teamwork is the secret that make common people achieve uncommon result.


Happy Labor Day!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis weekend, we celebrate Labor Day, which always falls on the first Monday of September. For those who are headed back to school or who have already hit the books, this weekend marks the end of summer, although the first day of fall is officially September 22. For many individuals at UTMB, this is a welcome holiday because it means they will enjoy an extra day off. For others, especially those who provide patient care or support those who do, it will be another day of exceptional and compassionate service as they remain on board in our hospitals, urgent care clinics and emergency rooms to ensure UTMB patients receive the Best Care. I’d like to especially thank you all for your service on this day.

Labor Day was established as a tribute to the contributions of employees across the U.S. to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. At UTMB Health, we could not provide the best possible patient experience without the talent and expertise of all of our employees and physicians, working together to work wonders. So in honor of everything you personally do for our patients, their loved ones and your colleagues, I’d like to thank you for your service.

Whatever your role, from the moment you put on your UTMB badge, you are part of the patient experience at this organization. I’d like to share a letter recently received from a patient’s loved one that illustrates the impact you make on people’s lives each and every day. Even if you weren’t directly involved in this specific patient’s care, I’d like you to think about how you played a role in this couple’s experience at UTMB—whether you realized it or not:

“On Monday morning, May 2, my wife and I were returning to Galveston on a cruise ship when she was discovered unconscious for unknown reasons. Once docked, paramedics came to the ship’s infirmary and transported my wife to the UTMB Emergency Room facility. She was discharged the following Friday after spending several days in ICU while UTMB physicians and staff cared for her.

I wish to say “Thank You!” to the UTMB team. I was extremely impressed with both the quality of care and the compassionate disposition of the UTMB staff. During my wife’s most difficult medical procedures in the ICU, we received a level of treatment that FAR EXCEEDED any prior experience. I was greatly relieved to know my wife was in such capable and experienced hands.

In my opinion, the entire UTMB team went above and beyond at every opportunity and greatly eased my wife’s suffering during a very difficult situation. She made several remarks to me during her stay about how much she appreciated the professionalism in the staff and how she felt that her caregivers really considered her comfort and well-being. They took the time to explain to us what procedures were planned and the results of tests that had been conducted. They answered all of our questions and took the time to make sure my wife understood what was happening.

As a husband, I want to thank you and your entire team for all that was done to help in my wife’s recovery. I cannot convey how much it meant to me to know she was getting the best possible care provided by a staff who gave so much of themselves to their patients. Most importantly, we left Galveston much better than we had arrived as a result of the tremendous care we received at UTMB. Please extend to the team our grateful appreciation for their hard work and dedication.”

The gentleman who wrote this letter described an excellent patient experience at UTMB. While this is just one couple’s story, there are many other narratives we may not always hear about, although they happen every single day—someone who warmly greeted another person who, in that moment, really needed to see a friendly face, or someone who provided an anxious, concerned visitor with directions from the parking garage to the correct hospital entrance—the smallest gestures of kindness can make an impact.

I am pleased to share with you that our most recent patient satisfaction survey results reflect that our patient’s experiences are consistently good. In fact, for the month of July, 85.4 percent of patients from our Galveston campus hospitals gave UTMB the highest overall rating, according to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey. (Patients are asked to rate their experience on a scale of 0 to 10, where “0” means “worst hospital possible” and “10” means “best hospital possible”.)

The survey, which is administered by Press-Ganey, showed that for this rating, we performed better than 93 percent of 1,985 hospitals. Compared to other hospitals in our bed group (300-449 beds), only one percent of hospitals performed better than UTMB! Meanwhile, when compared to our academic medical center peers within this group, only five percent outperformed UTMB. This is outstanding!

Everyone at UTMB Health impacts the patient experience, and everything we do while we wear our badge represents our commitment to our patients, visitors and colleagues:

  • When you provide the right care to the right patient at the right time, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you help someone find their way or simply listen to their story, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you help a patient schedule the appointment they need when they need it, or when you help provide great customer service, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you document patient care or translate clinical documentation into codes that accurately reflect the patient care delivered, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you deliver or maintains materials, supplies or equipment to the individuals who deliver patient care, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you help ensure our facilities are operational and running efficiently, you impact the patient experience.
  • When your role is to find the right candidate for a certain job, you welcome them aboard, or provide training or educational opportunities, you ultimately impact the patient experience.
  • When you support information systems like the Epic electronic medical record, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you help transport test specimens to the laboratory or ensure the right medications are delivered to the right patient at the right time, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you serve a patient a delicious meal or you help keep our campuses beautiful, you positively impact the patient experience.
  • When you educate our future medical professionals or make medical discoveries through important research, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you quickly respond to and fix parking equipment to minimize delays in exiting our hospitals, you impact the patient experience.
  • When you promptly order and install way-finding and parking signage to reduce patient and visitor confusion regarding where they need to go to get to a clinic or pick up a discharged patient, you affect the patient experience.

From a patient’s first impression to their last impression of UTMB Health, you are all a part of the patient experience, and you all help deliver the Best Care to our patients. Thank you for everything you do at UTMB Health, and enjoy a safe and happy Labor Day!