It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I got home from work Tuesday night, my husband motioned to me to come to the window. We live in a condominium and have a view of the Gulf of Mexico from many floors up. When I walked out on the balcony, I saw a sailboat about 50 yards from the beach that was tipping at about a 45 degree angle to the water’s surface. The sailboat had gotten too close to the shore, so much so that the keel got stuck in the sand. For those of you, like me, who may not know much about sailing, the keel is the flat blade sticking down into the water from the boat’s bottom that prevents it from being blown sideways by the wind, and it holds the ballast that keeps the boat right-side up. With the keel stuck solidly in the sand, the boat was now at the mercy of a considerable wind.

I watched for the next several hours as five trucks, chains and many workers painstakingly tried to pull the boat to shore. In all, it took about six hours and many people to free the boat. During this time, I began to wonder about those sailing the boat and how they found themselves in this predicament. Did they not have a depth finder? Was it broken? Was the wind so strong that they could not overcome its intensity? Were these novice sailors, unfamiliar with navigating their boat? Many possibilities ran through my mind as I watched this scenario unfold.

I observed how carefully the workers orchestrated each move to secure the boat and bring it to shore. They did not rush the rescue. Instead, their moves were slow and calculated. It was clear that they had a strategy to free the sailboat, but they did not rush their work. Meanwhile, a crowd of observers had slowly gathered on the beach during the rescue. I was amused that some set up “camp” and brought beach chairs and refreshments. Others walked up, watched for a while and then moved on. Everyone remained respectful of the team that assembled to rescue the sailboat.

Throughout this situation, I thought about the importance of having the right experience, expertise and most importantly, having a solid plan. Through our many efforts in support of Best Care, we have already shown that we can generate good patient outcomes, and we must remain dedicated to continuing this success. The next step toward becoming the premier health system in Southeast Texas, with a national reputation for excellence, in an environment that supports the delivery of Best Care to every patient, every time, is to become a destination for care by showcasing our clinical expertise.

UTMB’s Clinical Strategic Plan (CSP) is our map to this goal. Since unveiling the CSP earlier this year and discussing our plan with faculty and staff, many have asked why and how we formed the plan. Health care is an ever-evolving environment, and it can sometimes feel a little like navigating uncharted waters. No sailor can control the wind, but they can adjust their sails to get to their destination. That’s why carefully charting one’s course is so important. You can’t always get from point A to point B in a straight line, so it’s important to know where you’re headed. It is also important to carefully assess the waters and study the currents to identify the direction in which they flow.

We charted our course by performing an analysis to determine which service lines should receive targeted focus to ensure future growth. After all, it doesn’t matter how fast you sail, if you’re not sailing in the right direction! By organizing, integrating and delivering a comprehensive set of services around a major disease entity, age group or patient population, we are not only able to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness, but more importantly, we strengthen our commitment to our patients – this is critical in today’s challenging health care environment.

Our analysis allowed us to hone in on programs that most closely met select criteria, including alignment with the Research Strategic Plan. This was an important factor because through cutting-edge discoveries, we are not only able to provide patients with the best evidence-based care, but also clinical trials, which is something that makes UTMB unique. We also considered areas in which we had significant experience and expertise, clinical productivity, opportunities for growth, and market need and opportunity.

Working together with physician advisors, employee advisors, and patient and family advisors, UTMB determined that our plan will begin with focused investment in two UTMB Health Service Lines: an Integrated Neurosciences Service Line and an Eye & Ear Institute. There is a need in the market for these services, and they provide opportunity for future growth, because many times patients who see us for one reason have additional conditions that require use of other specialties.

For example, we learned in our research that patients who see us for neurosciences services have a greater need for musculoskeletal and heart services. Thus, not only will the neurosciences program grow, but additional services will benefit. Because visual impairment and hearing loss often occur together, particularly among older adults, we chose Eye & Ear as our second targeted service line. This will help grow ophthalmology and otolaryngology specialties on both the mainland and the island. Primary care will also remain an important focus in the communities UTMB serves.

Worthwhile goals are rarely attained via short routes. This is why the Clinical Strategic Plan is a long-term, five-year plan. While these two leading service lines will receive the majority of investments in the initial years of the plan, other programs and specialties will receive investments, as well. These investments will occur throughout the term of the plan via “incubator” opportunities and existing program expansion. For example, we are already planning to develop an Oncology Service Line plan in preparation for the opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center outpatient facility on the UTMB Health League City Campus in the summer of 2018. Other services with high potential for future service line development include gastroenterology, musculoskeletal, and heart, thoracic and vascular services. We must build on our growth (i.e., planning for next services) as we implement initial service line plans. We will carefully track our progress and make course corrections as needed along the way.

There is a quote, “It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” Growth and partnerships, patient experience and operational excellence are all important parts of UTMB’s vessel, and successfully sailing a large vessel like our clinical enterprise requires a skilled, dedicated and passionate crew. At UTMB, we are a strong, innovative and diverse team, and we are passionate about working together to deliver the Best Care to every patient, every time. With success, we will arrive at our destination, achieving increased patient volume and revenue, and securing UTMB’s financial health and reputation, both regionally and nationally.