When you can’t see the forest for the trees…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe evening before Valentine’s Day, my son, Brad, and his wife, Maureen, went out for a nice dinner at a small bistro in Coronado, California, which is a beautiful resort town near their home. As they were looking over the menu, Brad noticed flames suddenly flickering over the top of his menu. He put down his menu and looked across the table at Maureen, who was studying the bottom of her menu so carefully, she didn’t notice the top was dangling above the candle on the table and had caught on fire.

“Maureen, your menu!” Brad alerted her. She looked up, screamed and dropped her menu on the table, which then caught the table cloth on fire. The couples at nearby tables immediately grabbed their glasses of water to toss on the fire and extinguish the flames. Needless to say, I’m sure this was a Valentine’s Day Brad and Maureen will never forget!

Aside from sounding like a scene from a romantic comedy, this scenario made me think about how sometimes, we become so focused on something we are doing that we miss detecting something that’s rather obvious or unexpected (like your menu being on fire). Or, at other times, we can become so distracted by a single task or detail, we fail to look at the situation as a whole.

When it comes to being focused on a task, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. So, it makes sense that if you give your full attention to one task at a time rather than trying to do several things at once, you’ll have higher quality results. But in reality, we have all learned to function well while multitasking. In fact, we can even become overwhelmed at times by information, a load of projects, or technology to be used. Trying to focus on too many things at once can easily open the door to mistakes. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon wrote, “Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

There are a couple of big ways not being focused, whether on our environment or on a task at hand, can have an impact—like on Best Care, for example.

Here’s a possible scenario. Two boxes of medications are packaged very similarly. While trying to perform more than one task, like answering the phone, I might accidentally grab the wrong box, expecting that I have the correct one. After all, it’s a medicine I administer almost every day! That could be a costly mistake for my patient! Fortunately, we have a bar code medication administration system which, when used properly, can catch my error.

Here’s another example. I am having a pretty good day, but very busy. I am walking down the main corridor of Jennie Sealy Hospital and checking an email on my phone. While I am trying to also watch where I walk, I fail to notice the expression on the face of a distraught family member who is trying to find the intensive care unit to visit their loved one. Or, I may even simply pass someone who is lost and trying to get to their clinic appointment on time. Let’s put down our phones and focus on our surroundings when we are traveling throughout our campuses and health system complex. No matter what our role, we all have a job to do in assisting visitors and patients who may be lost or confused trying to navigate our large system of facilities. Some of you have asked me how you can help achieve Best Care. This is one way you can do that.

To err is human—we all are capable of missing details. That’s why realizing we are susceptible to filtering out incoming information in our environment is important. Because we work in a fast-paced, demanding environment, we must practice awareness and remain vigilant about the safety and quality of the care and service we deliver.

Here’s another perspective on our Best Care focus. There are different ways of thinking about Best Care—there are the simple things we can all do each and every day that contribute to a positive patient experience, some examples of which I described above. But there is also the technical side of the coin, where we are collecting different forms of data to understand and track our performance in delivering care. We collect information on the cost of care, and we also use clinical documentation to reflect how ill our patients were and to record the processes of care we used to treat them. Together, this information determines our ranking for certain quality measures, like mortality or efficiency. So, it is possible to be so focused on moving the needle—improving Best Care—that we could lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of it all is to always do the right thing for our patients. Best Care means we are honoring patient-centeredness and delivering on outcomes that matter to patients and their loved ones!

In closing, I’d like to share a short video. Please watch it and follow these instructions: In the video, there are two teams of three persons each, one dressed in black and the other in white, revolved around each other and passed basketballs to their teammates. Count the number of times the ball is passed among the players in white.

This was a study conducted in 1999 by psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris. They discovered that consistently, about 50% of their study participants failed to notice the gorilla. Whether or not the individuals saw the gorilla was not an individual difference trait. And interestingly, those who did see the gorilla could not believe that others actually failed to see it!

It just goes to show the importance of “avoiding distractions, paying attention to what others might notice, remembering that looking is not the same as seeing, and realizing just because your eyes are open, it doesn’t mean you’re seeing something!”*


*Mike Lyles, Quality Engineering Program Manager

Why tread water when you can float?

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs you already know from some of my prior Friday Flash reports, my grandson, Jack, is a swimmer. However, he is also only 10 years old, so he can be somewhat forgetful or disorganized when it comes to swim practice.

I am not a swimmer, so I am always fascinated by what the swim team does at practice. I have learned from Jack that one of the techniques his coach uses to help the swimmers gain upper body strength is to hold a flotation device, called a pull buoy, between their legs while swimming. The buoy helps keep the swimmers’ legs stationary and afloat as they swim through the water. This is an extremely important part of training, because it helps the swimmer focus on their arm movements, which is particularly beneficial for a swimmer who does the butterfly and breast strokes, like Jack.

Two weekends ago, my daughter, Jack’s mother, and I were having dinner when she told me an amusing story. For about three practices in a row, Jack had forgotten his buoy. His coach was not happy when he arrived at the third practice without it. So, to make a point, the coach told Jack that if he forgot it again, she was going to tie his ankles together and make him do the exercise that way—it must have made a point, because he hasn’t forgotten his buoy since.

As I thought about the prospect of trying to swim with my ankles secured together without a buoy, I thought about how we sometimes make work harder for ourselves than it needs to be. There are times when we are confronted with challenges, but we don’t remember to use our “buoy” for support, be it our co-workers, technology or available equipment. For example, do we ask others for help when feel overwhelmed with too much work? I know it is sometimes hard to ask for help, yet it is sometimes the best thing we can do.

I had a chance to meet a nurse recently who has worked at UTMB for about five years. She came to UTMB from a competitor hospital up the freeway, so I asked her what attracted her to UTMB. She told me that she had worked here per diem while she was a full-time nurse at the other hospital, and she noticed in her shifts at UTMB that if she had two new patients to admit at once, the other nurses on the unit always checked with her to see if she needed help. She told me that never happened at her full-time job. So when there was a full time opening at UTMB, she decided to quit her job at the other hospital and work here. I asked her if she felt free to ask for help if she needed it, and she told me, “Absolutely.”

I admire this nurse. Instead of struggling under a spike in workload and trying to do the job alone, she asked for and accepted help. Just like my grandson, Jack, she had decided it was easier to accomplish her work with a buoy as her lifesaver rather than trying to do the job with her “ankles tied together.”

Here’s another example. Most of the time, we have technology available to help us do our work more precisely, but we opt to take a shortcut to save time and don’t use the technology that helps make our work easier or safer. Not too long ago, we implemented a bar code system to help make giving medication to our patients safer—the nurse scans the patient’s wrist band, and then scans the bar code on the medication packet. This technology is a “buoy” that helps assure that the nurse is giving the right medication to the right patient, at the correct dose at the right time. If any of these variables are not correct, the technology then alerts the nurse that if they continue, there could be an error. Using the system literally can be a lifesaver, because it reduces the likelihood of a medication error. Although this cannot eliminate medication errors entirely, nor can it replace the diligence and critical thinking of the nurse, it is safer way for UTMB to provide high quality care for our patients in environments that have frequent distractions and elevated levels of stress.

What buoys do you have in your job that make your work easier? Are you using all of the tools you have to assure you are being as effective in your job as possible? Do you offer help when you see others need it, too?

Health care is a fast-paced environment. Asking for help and using the tools designed to make our work more efficient and processes more reliable equates to safer patient care and a positive patient experience. And sometimes, we can really benefit from the skill and expertise of our teammates. Asking for help isn’t always easy. But, sometimes it’s downright essential!

Accept yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, your truths, and know what tools you have to fulfill your purpose. –Steve Maraboli

Best Care Update

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs you all know, we experienced a fire in John Sealy Hospital last week. Although some of our teams are now working in temporary locations until the hospital can be restored, we have resumed normal operations. So this week, I am again looking ahead to Best Care and what we need to do to assure that we will rank in the highest quartile of performance as measured by the Vizient Quality & Accountability Study.

We have done much work since June when we began working in earnest to improve outcomes of care for our patients. As a result of that work, we are starting to see improvements in our performance. We all remember that when we began the Best Care initiative, we ranked in the top 20 out of 102 academic medical centers in both equity of patient care (this means that our patients get the same care, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, etc.) and in patient-centered care.

Moving forward, we needed to remain a top performer in both of these categories, and to date, we have accomplished this. For example, our goal in patient-centeredness for the first quarter of the fiscal year was to have 76.4 percent of our patients rate us on the patient satisfaction survey as a nine or ten (on a scale of one to ten) for their overall experience of care. And there’s good news—for the first quarter of FY17, 81.6 percent of our patients rated us at the top of the scale! This is excellent work, and we need to keep it up!

Our work to increase patient safety has also been exceptional. For this measure, we use a rating called the Patient Safety for Selected Procedures Composite Score (a measure developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality), otherwise known simply as PSI-90. Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) reflect the quality of care inside hospitals, but focus on potentially avoidable complications and adverse events following surgeries, procedures and childbirth. These types of events include, but are not limited to, the rate of pressure ulcers, falls in the hospital resulting in hip fracture, the rate of hemorrhage or hematoma after surgery, and the rate of postoperative sepsis (a severe bloodstream infection resulting in decreased organ function). We are doing exceptionally well with this measure. Our target score for the first quarter was 0.91 and we scored 0.65 (lower numbers are better, in this case). Our target for next quarter is 0.80, so we need to keep up this excellent work and do all we can to do even better!

For preventable readmissions within 30 days of discharge, we exceeded our first quarter target of 13.6 percent—our performance was 12.5 percent (again, lower numbers are better). This means that we did a good job of managing our patients once they left the hospital, we followed up with them to make sure they were following their care plan, and/or we managed their health in our clinics so they did not come back to the hospital within the 30-day time frame. While this is excellent work, we increase the challenge to meet our targets each quarter so that we have to continually improve. For the next quarter, our goal for the 30-day all-cause readmission rate is set at 12.58 percent or less, so we have to keep improving!

We also met our goal to reduce our mortality rate, which is described as a ratio that compares how many patients passed away, in total, compared to how many were expected to pass away while in the hospital based on how sick they were. A significant part of the effort to improve our rate has been rooted in clinical documentation improvement, because the more specific the documentation is, the more accurately the patient’s severity of illness is reflected. Additionally, if we do not document the care we deliver to our patients well enough, our performance appears worse than it actually is—even if the care was excellent and the patient had a good outcome. To help support our providers in this endeavor, we have been working to optimize our electronic medical record (Epic), and we are also offering documentation training to physicians on our inpatient units—for example, providers should not use symbols when documenting, and it is important to use special and specific wording when describing the patient’s condition.

For the mortality score, a score of less than 1 means that more patients survived than were predicted to. A score of more than 1 means that more patients passed away than were predicted to. So, a lower score is better. This quarter, our mortality observed/expected rate was 0.91, where our target was 0.99. Since lower numbers are better, this means we met our goal. For the next quarter, however, our target is 0.90, so we have some more work ahead of us.

The last major measure we are tracking is length of stay (LOS). This falls under the Vizient Quality & Accountability Study’s category of Efficiency, which measures how well we are using our resources compared to how ill the patient is. This measure is case mix index adjusted, which essentially means that it takes into consideration the diversity, clinical complexity and resources needed to care for our total hospital patient population. Our goal for this first quarter’s LOS at the Galveston campus was 2.85 days. At 2.96 days, we missed our goal. We have a significant amount of work to do, because for next quarter, our goal will be 2.81 days.

I know many of you have asked me how we are doing when it comes to achieving Best Care. If I were to summarize, I’d say we are on the right track and moving in the right direction. But to meet the goals we have for the end of this fiscal year, we have stay focused and maintain our absolute resolve to meet our Best Care goals.

I want to thank each of you for our improvements made since June. I know this requires a lot of work, but if we can make these improvements stick, ultimately, our work will become easier. And even more importantly, our patients will receive the Best Care.


*Lower numbers are better

Everyday Heroes

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemMost of you already know that I was not here for Hurricane Ike. I arrived to work at UTMB one year and a day afterward. My first day of work at UTMB, I remember standing in the grassy area in front of John Sealy Hospital during the Hurricane Ike Commemoration Ceremony. Dr. Callender was surrounded by a small group of employees who listened to him talk about the progress the organization had made over the past year, and he reflected on the experiences of the first days after the storm. He recalled the extraordinary effort of some of our facilities colleagues who made sure the UTMB sign on John Sealy Towers was lit. Then, the ceremony ended, and the UTMB flag was raised by two of our students. I stood at the back of the small crowd, listening and watching the emotions of the people there. It was obvious that the memories of this experience were still quite vivid and emotions were still raw. There was still much healing to be done.

About two years ago, UTMB had the opportunity to host the University of Texas System Board of Regents and members of UT System leadership at a dinner reception. That evening, Dr. Joan Richardson, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, spoke of her love of heroes when she was a girl. She told us that she had always wanted to know a hero, but had not had a chance to know one—that is, until September 2008. As she described the work of hundreds of people who rode out the storm and the many others who came back to work tirelessly to reopen UTMB, she said that she realized she knew hundreds of heroes. They came from every walk of life, and they all had one thing in common—their resolve to reopen UTMB. UTMB stopped for no storm.

I remember the absolute silence that evening as the audience sat mesmerized at the story of the heroes at UTMB. There were few dry eyes in the room when Dr. Richardson finished her story. I remember thinking how lucky I was to work with people who made sure that UTMB, like the mythical phoenix, rose again from Hurricane Ike’s devastation.

Houston Fire Department to the rescue!

Houston Fire Department to the rescue!

This past Wednesday, I experienced what Dr. Richardson described. I was walking toward the Administration Building on the Galveston Campus when I saw a fire truck and two escort cars arrive in the front of John Sealy Hospital. It is not unusual to see an emergency vehicle or two in front of the hospital from time to time, and it generally is not a serious issue. But as I watched two of our police officers run past me and into the east entrance of John Sealy Hospital, I realized something serious was happening. Within minutes, we learned that a fire, yet uncontained, had broken out on the second floor and that smoke was in the stairwells and moving throughout the building. We declared an emergency at UTMB.

Transportation staff in action

UTMB Transportation staff in action, waiting in front of Jennie Sealy Hospital to transfer patients.

Working with local fire departments, a decision was made to evacuate the 110 patients, their visitors and our staff in John Sealy Hospital. Although this was an intense situation, our staff, physicians and managers remained calm and focused on getting everyone out of the building. As the patients were being safely transferred out of the building, we simultaneously needed to decide on where to place the patients. Administrators, doctors and managers worked together under pressure to identify the best places to continue care for our patients in our care facilities. I applaud every one of you who helped moved our patients to new locations, got them settled in, and worked to assure that their needs in these new areas were met. It was a challenging situation, but everyone problem-solved and worked together to get what was needed to help our patients.

A hero is defined as someone who makes a personal sacrifice in order to benefit others or someone who is noted for their courageous action. I now know from my own personal experience what it is like to work with hundreds of heroes. To everyone who made the safe evacuation of 110 patients possible on Wednesday, you are the heroes of UTMB! Thank you for the personal sacrifice and the risks that you took to benefit so many others!

Thank you to the Galveston Firefighters, the Galveston County Health District EMS, the Galveston Police Department, Island Transit, the Houston Fire Department, and Santa Fe Fire & Rescue for coming to UTMB’s aid!

Holiday Traditions

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemGrowing up in the Midwest, I always wished for snow during the winter holidays. As you know, our family celebrates Christmas, and snow on Christmas Day meant two things. First, I got to play outdoors with all of my cousins, and, if the snow was moist enough, we could make snowmen. Second, after dinner with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins, all of the children would wait patiently (as patiently as we could, that is) until dusk, because it meant that my mom’s cousin would hook up the horses to the sleigh, and we would all be treated to sleigh rides around the snow-covered countryside. It was especially magical if the snow was still falling and fresh on the ground, because the sleigh would glide silently along with only its lights to help show the way. Just writing about those sleigh rides now, I re-experience the warm feelings of Christmas days past.sleigh

Determined to create our own traditions once we were married, my husband and I decided to give each of our children a traditional gift that they could count on each Christmas. Each year, we gave our daughter a bell ornament. Each of our twin sons received nutcrackers. These were small gifts, but they became significant in the lives of our children. I recall one particular Christmas evening, I was tucking one of the twins into bed, and I asked him what his favorite present had been. He had a particularly bountiful Christmas, getting a fishing rod and reel, a Game Boy, and some other smaller toys.

His response surprised me. Without stopping to think, he said, “My favorite present this year was my nutcracker.” This twin is now a grown man with a family of his own, but it warms my heart when I visit him right before the holidays, and among his family’s modest set of decorations, a line of nutcrackers from years past are lined up on the shelves in his living room. For him, they bring warm feelings of family. In a way, they transport him back in time across thousands of miles to many Christmas mornings.

I would like to think that everyone grew up with wonderful winter holiday traditions and memories, but we know that is not the case for everyone. Some families would not have gifts without the generosity of Secret Santas who “adopt” them through not-for-profit organizations. Others might not enjoy a nice holiday meal, were it not for generous donations made to food pantries, or for the volunteers who cook and serve those meals. Still many others struggle with health problems or are experiencing circumstances that make the holidays seem lonely or bring sadness or despair.

I know that many of you have been so generous this year by contributing to the recent UTMB Health Food Drive in support of Ball High School’s “Share Your Holidays Food Drive” (sponsored by ABC13). In fact, I learned that UTMB contributed nearly a ton of food to the Galveston County Food Bank. In combination with donations from all others throughout the area, this will provide 18,641 meals for our neighbors in need this holiday season.

Julian Ramirez, Larry Krcma, Sharon Lacy and Lori Blackwell load a van with food donations

Julian Ramirez, Larry Krcma, Sharon Lacy and Lori Blackwell load a UTMB catering van with food donations.

Many others of you are adopting families this year from organizations like the Salvation Army. And still many others of you will help fill the void of family as you care for our patients who will be hospitalized over the holidays. We deeply appreciate your contributions to the well-being of our patients and the sacrifices you make to assure that our patients will be receiving the very Best Care.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope that we will all be mindful of the needs of others around us. I have always believed that the true meaning of the holidays is found when we make things better for others.

The following are 10 easy ideas to brighten the holidays for someone else:

  1. Visit those who are lonely.
  2. Make a random act of kindness.
  3. Decorate someone’s home who cannot decorate for themselves.
  4. Adopt a family.
  5. Give what you can (you don’t have to spend a lot of money to show you care!).
  6. Give your time, whether simply sharing your company or through volunteering.
  7. Contribute to Toys for Tots or another toy drive.
  8. Help the homeless.
  9. Make a charitable donation.
  10. Pay it forward.

There are many traditions this time of year, but one thing is certain. This is a time of giving and sharing with those around us, and that sharing is not only limited to those that we love and care for. It is also for the person that we have never met and will never see.

The Simple Gift of Presence

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever gone somewhere with a friend or family member, and the other person who sat at the table with you was busy surfing the web or texting someone else on their laptop or cell phone rather than interacting with you?

Conversely, have you ever experienced a difficult time in your life when someone came along and offered support in such a way that you felt cared for? This person may have been calming, reassuring, easy to talk to, and—most importantly—they understood your struggles.

The simple gift of another’s presence can be healing.

We all want the Best Care for our patients—we want to be sure they are cared for in the safest, most effective and most compassionate way. In a fast-paced care environment, however, it may sometimes happen that we forget that patients can feel vulnerable and nervous when in the hospital (or even in a clinic setting). In a hospital in particular, there are times when a patient can’t care for themselves. At other times, if left unattended, the patient could become a safety risk to themselves or others. At these times, they need compassionate, one-on-one observation to remain calm, safe and secure. Being closely watched also helps ensure they receive the highest standard of care possible. This is one reason why there are windows that look into the patients’ rooms at every nurses’ station in our hospital units.

Positive regard for another as a human being with value is at the heart of true caring. Engaging with someone usually extends beyond the exchange of words. It means we share our presence, including our behavior and actions. The way we talk to patients and visitors, the way we look at them, the whole quality of our presence, can make them feel understood and help them feel at ease. These compassionate behaviors help foster feelings in the patient and their family that we truly want the best possible outcome for them. In turn, their sense of well-being can promote wellness—did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), higher levels of well-being are associated with better immune functioning and speedier recovery? Our potential to affect others by being present is both a great gift and a great responsibility.

One patient sitter at UTMB, Joe Romfeld, demonstrated just this sort of compassionate care for one of our patients. Of Joe, a colleague recently wrote:

“Joe was an excellent patient care technician/sitter today. He was very attentive to our patient. He made sure the bed had fresh linens and that the patient had a clean gown. He even went so far as to disinfect the entire mattress before he put the clean sheets on. He made sure that the room was neat, and he disinfected all the hard surfaces in the room.

The patient had several episodes of nausea and vomiting, and Joe was very caring and compassionate. He did not get on a cell phone once today, and he sat in the room with the patient and made the patient feel comfortable and at ease.

I tell you this because it was so refreshing! In some of my past experiences with sitters, if they are in the patient’s room, they are often on their phones. Sometimes, sitters sit outside the room and have little interaction with the patient. Every time I went in the room, Joe asked me how he could help.

He is such a hard worker! He should be starting nursing school this coming fall, as he is just finishing his pre-requisites. He would be a wonderful employee—kind, compassionate, caring and a very hard worker. I have known Joe for over a year and have had opportunity to work with him many times. He has always had a strong work ethic and always put the patient first. I feel like a better person because I got to work with him today.”

Our caring presence is a way we can all demonstrate Best Care at UTMB. Whether we deliver care or simply interact with patients and visitors, we can be mindful of how others may be feeling. Even a momentary interaction can make a difference. Let us all consider ways we can cultivate our attention and our ability to attend closely to those around us, and in this way, we can bring care and concern to others. Take some time to give others the gift of your kindness!

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” —Mother Teresa

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere is a proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Have you have been in a position at some point in your life when you had to rely on the generosity of others? I would guess that most of us have. I know it has been true for me.

When I was 15 years old, my father unexpectedly lost his job. With three children and a wife to support, he was devastated and very worried about our family’s future. Fortunately, two things happened which made it possible for our family to transition through this challenging time until he got a new job.

First, my parents decided that my mother should return to work. In the mid-1960’s, a mother working outside the home was not the social norm. Nevertheless, my mom had been an exceptional legal secretary before she decided to stay home to focus on raising me, and eventually, raising my brother and sister. Fortunately, she had stayed in touch with her former employer during this time. So when my dad lost his job, my mom made an appointment to meet with her former agency to see if they had any job openings. Fortunately, they were hiring, and they offered her a job on the spot.

I remember there were tears of relief when my mother came home to say she would start working the following Monday. Because I was the oldest, my mother sat down with me to ask for help. She would need someone to be home for my brother and sister when they returned from school, and she would need me to cook dinner. I was so relieved that she would be able to help my dad and our family that I quickly agreed to do as she asked, even though it meant I would be giving up some of my after-school activities. To me, it felt like a small price to pay for my family’s future.

The other source of help we received came from my grandparents. I am not sure if my parents ever realized that I had overheard them asking my grandfather for a loan until we could get back on our feet. Fortunately, this is something my grandfather was able to do, and he told my parents not to worry about paying him back until they felt they were in a position to do.

This period of my life taught me a lot. First, the example of my mother’s former employer hiring her back on the spot taught me that it is important to stay in touch with people with whom I have worked in the past, as well as the importance of doing the best job possible while in their employ. Whether this relationship results in receiving a good reference or in assistance getting another job when the time is right, former employers and supervisors can be invaluable in helping us find future opportunities, should we ever need their assistance.

Secondly, and most importantly, I learned about the generosity of others and how it can make a tremendous difference in another person’s life when they need help. Whether the difficulty is losing a job, coming down with a serious illness, or any number of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, anyone can experience a situation in which they may someday need to rely on the help of others. This is the lesson foremost on my mind this week as we approach the close of this year’s State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC), which ends on November 14.

Because of my experience as a 15-year-old, I have always supported organizations I believe in, such as the more than 300 charities represented by SECC. I have found that there are few things in life as satisfying as giving generously to help others, even though we may never know who has benefited from our gift.

For those of you who have already given to SECC, thank you! To those of you who have yet to donate, I hope that you will do so today. No amount is too small, and it is so easy to give. You can write a check for a one-time donation, or you can make a one-time or monthly gift through a payroll deduction. I know that some of you may not be in a position to give, but for those who are, please donate today. And remember, no gift is too small—we are harnessing the power of collective giving. Together, UTMB’s contributions will go far!


Happy National Radiologic Technology Week (Nov. 6 – 12). Thank you for everything you do to deliver excellent patient care and promote healthcare safety!

Lifting People Up

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEach day at UTMB Health, people’s lives are touched in positive ways by our employees. Last week, I heard a story I wanted to share with you about an employee who went the extra mile to lift a patient’s spirits.

Nurse Keith Sumrall was working on the Pediatric Unit in John Sealy Hospital. One of the patients for whom he was caring had just been through a tough surgery; he also had an intellectual disability which made him feel especially anxious about the entire experience. One evening, as Keith left the patient’s room, he asked if there was anything else he could do. Kyle* had his heart set on one thing: a Kit Kat bar.

There were no Kit Kat bars on the unit to take to the young patient. The next day, Keith decided to buy something sweet for his patient. However, he didn’t return to the room with just one candy bar—he arrived with 60 Kit Kat bars, which he poured onto the bed cover in front of Kyle. The expression on the young man’s face was priceless. The moment was captured by his father, who videotaped the encounter.

Who would have thought that Kit Kat bars could bring that much joy to a patient who had been through so much that week? Kyle was so appreciative, he decided to name his new teddy bear after Keith.

I received another story on Wednesday from Dr. Joan Richardson, Chair of Pediatrics. It was an article that appeared in the New York Times (click here to read the article) about the experience of a family at CHA Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts. Although the story did not take place at UTMB, it very easily could have.

The article featured the letter from the patient’s husband, who wrote about the professionalism of the staff, their kindness and compassion, and their consideration for the patient’s dignity and the family’s comfort. The staff also made it possible for the husband to have one last tender experience with his wife. These are all the types of things I hear about almost daily from our patients and their loved ones here at UTMB.

These two stories are examples of people who took delivering Best Care to a whole new level. Best Care is more than medicine. It is showing compassion and kindness for people who truly need our care. We should always ask patients and their loved ones if there is anything else we can do for them, and if there is something we can do to help (even if it is not within our scope of responsibility) we should find a way—we can always lend an ear, and we can always treat our patients and their loved ones with the same care and respect with which we would want to be treated.

Best Care is about understanding our patients’ needs and then doing what we reasonably can to meet them. It’s about living our values. The employees in these stories did exactly that as they demonstrated what exceptional patient care is all about.

Thank you to all of you who work together to truly work wonders for our patients and deliver Best Care, every patient, every time!

John Holmes

* The patient’s name and video above are shared with permission of the patient’s family.

SECC Don’t forget! The State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) is underway! SECC is a chance to give back to our communities and the important causes that are near and dear to us.

To all who have already committed to SECC, thank you!  To those who have not yet given, please give this every consideration. No amount is too small, and giving could not be easier. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift).

Please visit the SECC website at https://www.utmb.edu/secc  to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is November 14, 2016.

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