Going above and beyond

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemYesterday, I received a letter from one of our patients, and I wanted to share it with you all today, because I think it is a wonderful example of how when we do just a little more than is required for our patients, and we do so genuinely, we lift them up. Going the extra mile for our patients doesn’t always require being faced with a patient who has dramatic needs or challenges. Sometimes we can demonstrate care for our patients through a simple act of kindness or comfort, or finding a way to make the patient’s experience and process of care as convenient as possible for them. That’s exactly what happened in this case, and it helped make one of our patients feel truly cared for:

I am writing this letter to recognize the outstanding service that I received on March 21st and March 22nd from two of your employees. I had a doctor’s appointment at the Harborside Medical Group office and came in contact with Alina Valdez. When I arrived and checked in, the first receptionist could not get my parking ticket validated. She handed it off to Alina and after 10 attempts she was able to obtain a validation code.

After I finished my appointment with my physician at approximately 5:20 p.m., I went back to the reception area and the only one there was Alina. I told her the doctor ordered an X-ray and that I would need to make an appointment (I knew it was after 5:00 p.m.). Alina explained that she could get me over to the main hospital; she knew that Olivia Martinez in Radiology also stays late, and they could get my X-ray done that day so I wouldn’t have to make another trip or visit. I also needed to make another appointment to see a specialist, which Alina handled, scheduling my appointment for the next day at 11:00 a.m.

Alina made several follow-up calls and kept me informed. It is my belief that Alina went out of her way to assist and accommodate me for no reason other than I was a patient, and Olivia also was very helpful. They didn’t have to be.

I would greatly appreciate someone recognizing these two ladies for their care and dedication to both UTMB and me as a patient. I am truly impressed and know the value of dedicated employees. Please know that I am very appreciative of their service.

When we treat each patient the same way we would want to be treated, or as we would want a valued member of our family to be treated, not only are we doing what is right, but we are also distinguishing the patient experience at UTMB from all other providers. When we warmly greet and assist patients and visitors, and we find solutions for them, we show them that we respect them as human beings and we understand their time is valuable. When we work together to make sure the patient gets the test or appointment they need in a timely manner, we show that we care about their well-being. We can demonstrate care and respect by promptly responding to patients’ messages. We can follow up with them to make sure they are satisfied with their experience and that they have all the information they need.

When we consistently deliver an exceptionally good patient experience, and when we thank our patients and families for choosing UTMB, we set ourselves apart from the rest. Let’s be the kind of UTMB Health employee that always represents the kind of care we say we will deliver—the same care we would want for the most cherished of our loved ones. Going above and beyond is what providing excellent care and service is all about!

How do you go the extra mile for our patients?

The power of focus – keep your eyes on the prize

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemJimmy Johnson is an American football broadcaster and former player, coach and executive. His coaching career was incredible. He was the first and one of only three football coaches to lead teams to both a major college football championship and a Super Bowl. He is also one of only six men in NFL history to coach consecutive Super Bowl winners (for inquiring minds, the others included Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Mike Shanahan, and Bill Belichick).

In Johnson’s first year as coach of the Dallas Cowboys (1989), the team had a terrible season. Johnson, however, did not take long to develop the Cowboys into a championship-quality team. Once, before a game they needed to win to keep their season alive, he told the Cowboys a motivational story:

“I told them that if I laid a two-by four plank across the room, everybody there would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be that we were going to walk that two-by-four. But if I put that same two-by-four plank 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it, because the focus would be on failing. Focus is everything. The team that is more focused today is the team that will win this game.”

Johnson told his team not to be distracted by the crowd, the media, or the possibility of losing, but to focus on each play of the game itself, just as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game, 52-17.

Last week in my post, I talked about how, when we began the Best Care initiative, many people expressed to me that our goals for Best Care were too far of a stretch and it would be a highly unlikely feat. Yet, after I reviewed the second-quarter results of Best Care, I feel as confident as ever that if we maintain our focus, we will be successful. So far, we have really improved in almost all areas. It is true, we slipped slightly in our 30-day readmissions goal at the close of the second quarter, but our six-month overall performance still meets the goal. We just need a lot of focus in this area as we head into the third quarter. We also saw a spike in our second major safety measure, the Central Line-Associated Blood Stream Infection (CLABSI) Standardized Infection Ratio (SRI). While the reasons for this spike are partially due to surveillance definitions that affect all measured organizations, we have implemented improvement processes where appropriate, and we expect to improve in the next quarter for this goal, also.

Overall, when I look at our performance for the first two quarters, I see we are trending in the right direction. This made me think about how “overnight success” is a myth. Success is a journey that sometimes comes with setbacks and adversity. Most successful people throughout history dedicated years to learning and perfecting their craft, during which they experienced disappointment, reinvention and, finally, success. Most experienced periods of trial and error. The one thing successful people (and organizations) have in common is that they know in order to accomplish their goals and to be successful, staying focused is critical.

I think when you’re working as hard on something as we have been toward Best Care, when there is any area in which one’s performance isn’t quite as good as one had hoped, there is a naturally tendency to get stuck on the negative and think about all of the losses for the day. But, it is important to also count all of one’s wins and find all of the good that took place. We should be very proud of the progress we have made.

Best Care is a journey, and we are learning as we go. It takes time to make some of the improvements we need. For example, common causes for readmissions nationally involve medications—sometimes patients are on high-risk medications like anticoagulants (blood thinners) or are on a high number of medications (polypharmacy). We will now have a pharmacist on board who will be dedicated to helping us with these issues so our patients are not readmitted. We also will continue looking for ways to find resources for our patients once they are discharged from the hospital. And, we will continue working on our processes to assure our patients have follow-up clinic appointments once they are discharged from the hospital.

I shared a parable once several years ago that tells of three stone cutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on chiseling while he said, “I am doing the best job of stone-cutting in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

Are we all truly focused on Best Care—our cathedral of sorts?

Working on Best Care is our long-range goal. It will require focus, determination and exceptional teamwork. There will be times when we may feel like quitting, but that is absolutely the time we need to strengthen our resolve and remember why we started this work—for our patients to receive Best Care, every time and in every interaction.

We are halfway through the fiscal year, and we have made tremendous progress. If we stay focused on doing what’s right for our patients, I am confident we will achieve our goals by the end of August. Thank you for everything you are doing to assure that we achieve Best Care!


Persistence is the twin sister of excellence

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I was a sophomore in high school, my counselor signed me up for an advanced placement class: plane and solid geometry. I was excited because up to that point, school had been pretty easy for me. I was an overachiever (surprised?), and I wanted to take all of the classes I could that would prepare me well for college and make me a strong candidate for scholarships, which I really needed in order to attend.

I went to my first class. Mr. Gilmore was my teacher, a very nice man who seemed to explain the subject very well. However, each night when I got home and tried to do the homework, I could not do the problems. For some reason, the theory escaped me, and I received terrible homework grades those first few weeks.

One night as I sat at my kitchen table doing homework, I became visibly frustrated because I still could not do the homework problems. My dad came into the kitchen at the moment I was on the verge of tears. Dad was caught off guard by my display of emotion and wanted to know what the problem was. I told him about how I felt completely lost in the course, and that I didn’t think I belonged in it. I wanted to drop the class.

After several more nights of this, my dad became concerned enough that he called Mr. Gilmore. He told him that I was feeling very upset about the course. Mr. Gilmore reacted with what could be described as amusement. “Don’t worry,” Mr. Gilmore told my dad. “All of the students feel this way at this time in the class. In a few days, she will begin to understand it. It happens every year.”

As much as I didn’t want to, I stayed with the class. One day, the predicted happened—I finally understood plane and solid geometry and how to do the proofs! My grades improved dramatically, and I received A’s on my homework for the rest of the year.

Since that experience, I have often thought about how we react when things get tough or we are asked to do the seemingly impossible. Instead of buckling down and doubling the effort, we may be inclined to quit, believing our challenge is too difficult to tackle and accomplish.

I remember when we started the Best Care initiative last summer. Many people reacted with uncertainty and told me that our goals were not possible. After all, we had been trying for years to improve, and yet we were solidly stuck in the middle. How was this initiative going to be any different?

Today, I received the results from Quarter 2 of Best Care, and I am pleased to report that we have continued to improve in almost all areas. The results are as follows:

bestcare_q2summary3These are excellent results. While we still have much work to do as the upcoming quarterly targets will be more challenging, we are certainly on the right track. There may be moments in the coming months and weeks when you start to feel like we may not be able to continue improving to achieve our ultimate targets for the year; but, if you begin to think that way, just remember how far we have already come!

We were able to get through the first two quarters with excellent results, so I know we can continue performing well in the last two quarters. If we continue striving to deliver Best Care, we will reach our goal. When we do, it will be so wonderful for our patients and their loved ones!

There is a quote that says, “Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other a matter of time.” To me, this describes our journey so far. Thank you for everything you are doing to help UTMB come this far toward achieving Best Care!

Seeing through our patient’s eyes

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSome of you will recall that I broke my leg almost two years ago. During that time, I was not allowed to put any weight on it, or my injury would have likely required surgery. During the 90 days I had to be completely off my leg, I really saw our Health System through the eyes of our patients, and that is something I hope you all try to do as you go about your work and travel throughout our facilities.

While I had many wonderful interactions during the time I was healing, and I received exceptional care at UTMB, I did experience one recurrent problem—many times, access to the patient pick-up and drop-off ramp was difficult to get to because employees’ rides or unattended vehicles were parked in front of the entrance. During that time, my husband always parked a bit down the road and waited for me to call him once I was on the ramp. But often, I still had to uncomfortably stand and wait on my crutches, holding my bags, because he couldn’t enter the ramp.

This comes to mind today, as I have noticed the ramp in front of Jennie Sealy Hospital has become increasingly congested lately—particularly during peak hours, like shift changes or the lunch hour. I have noticed multiple cars parked for up to a half hour in the lane intended for patient pick-up and drop-off, while our patients are forced to utilize the far left lane, which is meant for thru-traffic only. As a result, cars begin to pile up behind them, and as cars become trapped in the line, frustration mounts.

I think we all take it for granted when are able to easily move and get where we need to go, but navigating in a wheelchair or on crutches can be a lot of work, especially when you are in pain or not well, or you are being discharged and have other items to load into the vehicle. I couldn’t help but wonder what impression seeing our employees get into these vehicles must give our patients and their loved ones who are already stressed with getting their loved one in and out of the hospital or a clinic.

This may seem like a minor issue to some, but blocking the entrance for employee use does not communicate the message that we care about our patients’ and visitors’ needs. Since that experience, I have been passionate about assuring we have places where patients can be easily dropped off and picked up. I have asked people who are parked along the inside lane of the ramp who were waiting for employees to please exit and relocate to the lower right lane in front of Jennie, to help reduce traffic congestion on the ramp. I always ask politely and with a smile, but sometimes the responses I receive are not as polite. Nevertheless, I am committed to making sure our patients’ needs are met. At UTMB, we should always assure that the amenities intended for our patients’ convenience are readily available.

We have worked with Parking Operations and Facilities to help us in this matter. They have already painted the driveway curbs and labeled them to indicate that the right lane is for patient drop-off only and the left lane is for thru-traffic only. We also have designated a small group of 20-minute parking spaces on the east end of the building for employees, their rides, or delivery vehicles to utilize.

Unattended vehicles are prohibited on the ramp, and towing will soon be enforced. But even when several cars are attended by the drivers, yet stay on the ramp for a half-hour or more, it quickly contributes to creating traffic congestion on the ramp. (There is more to come in the way of signage for the Jennie Sealy Hospital ramp to help drivers more easily recognize the rules of the ramp.)

Many of you have asked me what you can do to contribute to Best Care. This is a simple way to contribute. Use of the Jennie Sealy Hospital ramp and/or the John Sealy Hospital circle drive by our employees is not prohibited. For example, if you have mobility challenges, we certainly understand that you need to be dropped off or picked up at the front door. I am simply requesting that all employees please respect the convenience of our patients and their loved ones by asking the people who are dropping you off or picking you up to be aware of the flow of traffic on the ramp and when it is busy, to not park and wait for you on the ramp unless you are ready to be immediately picked up (especially during peak hours like the lunch hour or shift changes).

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation in this matter. There should be no hesitation on our part to make the UTMB experience better for our patients and their visitors! This is an easy way you can contribute to Best Care.

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes…it makes the world a better place”  —Daniel H. Pink