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

Create a culture in which excellence can flourish.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Whatever you or the public may consider quality to be, this definition is always a safe guide to follow: Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” ~Will A. Foster

Each New Year is a chance to commit to what we hope to achieve in the future. Last week, we established four areas in which we will focus to be successful this year: continued investments in our people, quantum leaps in quality and safety, transparency with our outcomes, and the wise use of our resources. In this first Friday Flash message of FY16, I’d like to explore our focus on quality.

Quality is defined as the standard of something measured against other things of a similar kind—the degree of excellence of something. It can mean everything from caliber or condition, character or worth, and it can be good or poor. Defining health care quality, however, is a little more technical. In fact, if you conduct an internet search for the words “health care quality” you’ll find a long list of organizations working to promote health care quality in hospitals, and you’ll also see numerous guides on how to improve in areas like patient outcomes, 30-day readmissions, and healthcare-associated infections. You may even find an infographic or two on reimbursement calculations!

To make a long story short, much of what is out there is written by the health care industry for the health care industry—and it is complex! As an industry, we even have had to find a way to state it simply to steady our focus. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the federal government’s leading agency, defines quality health care as “doing the right thing for the right patient, at the right time, in the right way to achieve the best possible results.”

But what do our patients and their families think “quality” health care means, and what do they expect of us when we say that we are committed to quality? Several years ago, in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Allan Detsky, an internist and health policy expert at the University of Toronto, identified criteria that patients expect when asked what they really want from health care.

He found, as one would expect, that patients want the best health care—they want to know that their care team is highly qualified and experienced, and they want to know the care they will receive is reliable, based on feedback from people they know, a referring physician, or other patients. This is not to say that patients don’t value statistics—our quality performance is currently publicly reported, so patients can compare us against other providers and know whether or not we are an excellent place to come for health care. It’s simply that they are more focused on whether the treatments they will receive will work in their specific case or condition.

The list of criteria is long, but the following are the most important aspects of care patients identified:

  • Timeliness. Patients desire access to services in a timely fashion.
  • Kindness. Patients want to be treated with kindness, empathy, and with respect for their privacy.
  • Hope and certainty. Even in dire situations, patients want to have hope and be offered options that may help. Patients and families are uncomfortable with uncertainty about diagnoses and prognoses. Therefore, they want to feel well informed, participate in decision making, and prefer active strategies.
  • Continuity, choice, coordination. Patients want continuity of care and choice. They want to build a relationship with a health care professional or team in whom they have confidence and have that same person or team care for them in each episode of a similar illness. They want the members of their health care team to communicate with each other to coordinate their care.
  • Privacy. Patients want to be hospitalized in their own room with their own bathroom and no roommate (this is something we proudly offer our patients at UTMB).
  • Low out-of-pocket costs. Patients want to pay as little as possible from their own pocket at the point of service delivery.
  • Medications and surgery. Patients prefer treatments that they perceive will require little effort on their part. Essentially, they want to feel “well taken care of”.

There is a much more important, patient-focused reason for making quality improvements: it’s the right thing to do. When we safely heal people and they have a positive experience in our care, they are more likely to follow through with their doctor’s advice and manage their disease processes, which leads to better patient outcomes and healthier patients in the future.

So, let’s focus on our patients’ experiences, with the understanding that they already trust us to do the right thing by delivering safe, evidence-based care and they trust us to monitor our own performance, much in the same way that we all trust airlines to make sure the plane is functioning well before takeoff!

Every individual in every role at UTMB impacts the patient experience in one way or another. This is why we must all focus on making the necessary changes to create a culture in which excellence can flourish. Whatever our work entails, we should reflect on the following:

  • Do we work together as a team, and are we committed to a culture of trust and safety, in which we can express our thoughts and concerns and constructively think together?
  • Do we demonstrate integrity by always doing the right thing for our patients and their families?
  • Do we show compassion and respect to all, so we not only work well together, but so that we are able to comfort patients and families during challenging times, or support them so they are motivated to heal? Do we promptly respond to patient and family concerns, whether by phone or the call button? Are we willing to take the time to explain things clearly and answer all of their questions?
  • Do we value diversity so that we can understand patients’ perspectives and preferences and fully engage them and their families in making decisions about their care and treatment?
  • Are we committed to lifelong learning, so that we are able to apply new knowledge and always explore better ways to enhance outcomes while remaining vigilant to assure patients’ safety?

If we are firmly committed to quality, and we practice safety measures the same way, every patient, every time, we will not only improve our performance, but we will be better able to focus on the experience of our patients and their families. At UTMB, we should always be able to look people directly in the eye and say: “The care you will receive at UTMB Health will be the same care I would want my most cherished of loved ones to receive.”

Aloha Spirit, UTMB Spirit

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemMy husband and I took a vacation earlier this month to unwind and spend some quality time with our son, his wife and their eight-month old daughter, who currently live in California. We traveled to Kauai, the oldest and northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands. Kauai is sometimes called the “Garden Isle,” which is an entirely accurate description. It’s covered by lush, emerald green valleys, rainforests, breathtaking mountains and waterfalls. Aside from the fact that the island is inarguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, one of the most interesting things I noticed was the very warm and welcoming nature of our interactions with the native Kauaian people.

What stood out to me most was that people from the island almost always made eye contact and greeted us in a way that we felt they were genuinely happy to see us. The pace of life there is also different, in a positive way. Nothing is rushed. Meals, car travel, and the beginning and end of the day were always taken in a relaxed manner. Even when people were working, there seemed to be this underlying attitude that life is not about work—people got their work done, but there was less intensity about it. As the week progressed, I noticed my inclinations to hurry my meals, honk at the slower moving car in front of me, and ensure all of my waking hours were scheduled doing “something productive” subsided. I was truly able to experience what the Hawaiians call “The Aloha Spirit.”

In Hawaii, it is common for people to use the word “Aloha”, which in the Hawaiian language usually means both hello and goodbye. The word Aloha is used in a combination with other words, such as Aloha kakahiaka, which means good morning; Aloha auinala which means good afternoon; and Aloha ahiahi which means good evening. But the literal meaning of Aloha is actually “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.” It comes from “Alo,” meaning presence (front and face) and “ha,” meaning breath.

Aloha is more than a word. Hawaiian culture believes the word Aloha holds within itself all one needs to know to interact rightfully in the world. It is a beautiful concept that is taught from one generation to the next; it is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. In the contemplation and presence of Aloha, harmony, pleasantness, and patience are also a part of the “Way of Aloha.” The people of Hawaii try and serve with Aloha at work, speak with Aloha to others, and live Aloha every day. It’s even considered a state law!

Aloha Spirit State Law is defined in Hawaii Revised Statutes as the coordination of mind and heart within each person. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. Its main purpose as a state law is to serve as a reminder to government officials that while they perform their duties, they should treat people with compassion and respect. By learning and applying this lesson to real life, everyone in the community can contribute to a better world—a world filled with Aloha.

So my question to you today is how can we further the Aloha Spirit at our own organization? Better yet, in what ways can we demonstrate the “UTMB Spirit” each day?

With each and every interaction we have with others, let’s try to live and embrace the UTMB Spirit. Let’s demonstrate our core values and hold their meanings in high regard. Think of the picture we’re painting when we treat others with warmth and sincerity, and demonstrate compassion and respect to others. By being mindful of the life events of others—patients, families, visitors and colleagues alike, we make a difference. When we respect others, we value their feelings, wishes and rights; we recognize that they are human beings, and we care about how we treat them. Just as with our core value of integrity, when we respect others, we do the right thing by them because we know it is what should be done.

This year’s Nurses Week and Health System Week is winding down, but we should remember the theme chosen by our nurses for the week year-round: “It’s all about the patient.” Delivering excellent patient care is our mission in the Health System, but what we should emphasize is that every action and every decision we make must be made with the patient and family at heart. If we always remember this, we will never doubt what the right decision should be.

When we work together to identify and embrace the qualities that appeal most to our patients and families, and when we hold ourselves accountable to those practices daily, we build a culture that delivers a consistently outstanding experience to them and to one another. It is up to us to deliver what every patient, family member and employee deserves—the best possible care and a caring environment. And we are rewarded in turn. As the Hawaiians say, “Life is good when you live doing the right thing.” For all Aloha that is given, Aloha will be received!

I hope each and every one of you will demonstrate the “UTMB Spirit” to our patients, each patient, each encounter, every time.

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