Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs many of you know, I grew up in the Midwest with wonderful parents who taught my two siblings and me many important values that have served us well throughout our lives. Our parents were always clear about their expectations of us, and my brother, sister and I tried to live up to those expectations. My dad also had some pretty strong opinions about education, work and integrity. To my dad, honesty and integrity were essential to making and keeping strong and trustworthy relationships.

We lived in Springfield, Illinois, and my parents did all they could to make sure we were safe and that we made good decisions about personal safety. My dad was not a fan of motorcycles, based on some past history of a friend who had a very bad experience while riding one. As a result, one hard and fast rule of my father’s was that we were never to ride on a motorcycle. While there were some shades of gray in a handful of his expectations of us, there was no gray area in this rule—you either rode on a motorcycle or you didn’t, and it was clear that our dad expected the latter.

One weekend during the summer between my junior year and senior year of high school, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I remember we were all enjoying music and the night air when my friend, Steve, arrived. He approached me and told me he wanted me to see something new. We went to the street in front of my friend’s house, and there sat a beautiful black and chrome motorcycle.

“Let’s take it for a spin!” Steve said.

“Oh, I can’t,” I responded.

“Why?” asked Steve.

“My dad forbids it,” I explained. “You have no idea the trouble I would be in if he ever found out that I rode on the back of a motorcycle.”

I think Steve could sense that he might still be able to convince me. “It’s Friday night. Your parents never go out, and we are a good ten miles from your house. They’ll never know,” he persuaded.

I was at the crossroads of an important decision. Steve was right—my parents would never know. They never went out because they always stayed home with my younger brother and sister unless I babysat for them.

Well, you can guess what happened. Yep, I rode on the back of Steve’s motorcycle. We took a quick spin down McArthur Boulevard, rode through Dairy Queen and then back to my friend’s house. It had only taken me a mere thirty minutes to break one of Dad’s strictest rules.

The next morning, I was in the kitchen when my father came in for breakfast. “Were you riding on a motorcycle through Dairy Queen on McArthur Boulevard last night?” he asked.

At that moment, all I could wonder was how on earth he could possibly know. “Why are you asking that?” I could feel my face getting flushed with guilt, but I kept my composure.

“Because our friends, Lilly and Jim, were at the Dairy Queen last night, and Jim called me this morning to say they had seen you drive through the parking lot on the back of a black motorcycle driven by a young man,” he said.

Okay, this was the moment of truth. Did I tell him what he thought he already knew and confess, or would I deny the whole thing? Then I blurted out, “I was at Roxy’s all night. I don’t know who Jim and Lilly saw, but it wasn’t me.”

“Are you sure?” asked Dad.

“Positive.”

And then, the next four words that tumbled out of my mouth would haunt me for the rest of the day. I said it again, “But it wasn’t me.” Those. I had just been dishonest with my dad. I felt terrible the rest of the day and hardly slept that night.

The next morning in church as I sat next to him, the sermon was about being honest in your dealings with your fellow man. Honestly, I squirmed all the way through church that day. Later that afternoon, I could stand it no more. I went to my dad and confessed what I had done. I was expecting the worst.

Dad asked me why I told him, and I said that I felt so terrible about not telling him the truth that I would rather face the consequences of my bad choice than to be dishonest with him. Fortunately, he accepted my apology and asked me not to be dishonest with him ever again. It was a great lesson for me, because I not only learned how important integrity is, but I also learned how terrible it feels to not demonstrate it. I also learned another great lesson from my dad—he knew how terrible I felt and believed that was punishment enough.

One of our core values at UTMB is integrity, which means that we are always honest in our dealings with our colleagues and our patients. It means that even when it is difficult, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions and words. We must demonstrate honesty in all dealings. It is a critical value, because it is the foundation on which strong and lasting relationships are built. Without integrity, there can be no trust.

Many of you may have heard the saying, “Character is who you are in the dark.” Integrity is a quality of character that can’t outwardly be seen by others; it’s how we would act if no one was looking. People with integrity do the right thing whether or not they will be recognized for it. Integrity is also fundamental to our personal peace. When we are honest with ourselves and others we also are at peace with ourselves.

A good friend of mine once told me that she might not have a lot, but she would always have integrity. As I think about it, my friend actually had everything because she had integrity. I hope as we reflect on all of our core values at UTMB, that we all remember the importance of integrity. We trust one another to do the right thing, and moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. We cannot have a safe, reliable environment without integrity! Integrity is the key to having a culture in which we always offer the very Best Care and service!

 


Reminder! Next week is UTMB Nurses and Health System Week (Monday, May 8 through Friday, May 12). Check out the schedule of events below!

Monday Kick off with Balloons & Banners

  • 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. TDCJ Hospital Breakfast (Second Floor, TDCJ Cafeteria)
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Tuesday

  • 6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Hospital Admin Breakfast Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campuses
  • Ambulatory Breakfast Delivery
  • 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.410D
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Blood Drive Jennie Sealy 4th Floor
  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Wednesday

  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ANA Webinar, Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.410D
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Thursday

  • Nurse Leadership Appreciation Lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Awards Ceremony, Research Building 6, Room 1.206
  • 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Pet Therapy, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Friday

  • Noon – 2:00 p.m. Cake and Ice Cream for Florence Nightingale’s Birthday, Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campus
  • Cakes to Ambulatory
  • Ice Cream Distribution for Night Shift
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSix years ago this month, my father-in-law, Talmage, passed away at the age of 95. As I think about Tal, I am always reminded of his love for learning and innovation. As a young soldier in World War II, he worked with a small group of men who perfected radar tracking systems for submarines. After the war ended and he had completed two master’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics, Tal and his new bride, Barbara, moved to Cape Canaveral, Florida where he began working with some of his Army colleagues to develop radar tracking systems for the space program. Eventually, he moved to California with his young family to become head of research and development for a company one of his Army buddies had started.

At age 50, he thought he had retired when he and his family moved back to Barbara’s childhood home in Illinois so that she could become chair of the English department at a new community college. Once they arrived, however, they discovered the college needed an instructor in electronics. Once again, Tal was pressed into action, this time to teach.

I met Tal after he had retired from teaching. But retirement for Tal did not mean sitting around and watching TV. He was a voracious reader of anything about mathematics (his undergraduate degree), physics or engineering. He read about three to five books a week and was well-known to the library staff in Auburn, Illinois and eventually Madison, Wisconsin. When he started growing a little more forgetful, he used a small notebook to write down the names of the book titles and authors he had already read so that he could reference it when he was picking out new books at the library—he wanted to make sure he was choosing something he had not already read!

One of the most memorable moments I had with Tal was during one of his visits to California where we lived. At the time, Tal was 83. One morning he walked into the family room, and I noticed a large hardback book in his hand. I asked him what he was reading.

His eyes lit up when he said, “I am reading a mathematics book.”

“What do they write about in a mathematics book?” I asked.

“Oh, it is a fascinating topic,” he replied with a large smile. “It describes how the property of numbers change as they approach infinity.”

That conversation was typical of Tal. He loved reading and learning all his life. He loved innovation, taking something familiar and seeing if he could improve on it. I miss his enthusiasm for learning and his quest to understand more about his love of math and science.

To me, Tal is a wonderful example of the love of innovation and education we should all embrace as we move forward into the future as an academic health sciences university and academic medical center. Right now, our industry is filled with uncertainty and change. And while it is challenging to balance all of the change with the practical reality of taking exceptional care of patients, I hope we can do so with enthusiasm and  positive outlook Tal had.

As I travel and meet with other colleagues throughout the country, I am always struck by how much better UTMB seems to be doing as an organization than others in terms of innovative programs. We have already implemented a number of programs that many are still struggling to get off the ground. For example, others are looking to us for guidance when it comes to achieving Magnet™ recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). They want to know about how we have been working to integrate a small community hospital into our system for the past several years. They want to learn about how we are leading the way as anchor for Medicaid 1115 Waiver Region 2, the 16-county area in which we have implemented more than 30 innovative Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) projects. They also want to know more about our MakerHealth™ Space, the first such makerspace in the country where health care providers, staff, students and faculty gather to create innovative solutions to patient care.

When I have conversations with staff, particularly in patient care areas, people often say they were drawn to UTMB or remain here because, in their own words, they love that they can learn something new every day. Many of you have told me that you love being part of teams that are delivering new and leading-edge, life-saving care to patients. You’ve told me that you love working at UTMB because no day is ever the same, and that you like how quickly your shifts go by.

While all of our values are important, I believe lifelong learning and our innovative spirit are what really distinguish UTMB from our peers. I know and appreciate that some of you feel weary from the pace and magnitude of change we are experiencing—I confess that I, too, feel that way at times. But what keeps me going is seeing each of you do all you can to provide Best Care to patients while still making time to continue learning, whether it is through formal education, reading about the latest initiatives at UTMB, by taking advantage of educational and training opportunities offered, or through simply working together in teams and on councils to learn from each other. I am inspired by the work you all do each and every day, and you all inspire me to continue my own professional growth as I try each day to be a better leader and do my own part to improve the health of our patients.

Thank you all for living the UTMB values each day!

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” —Anthony J. D’Angelo

Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Wednesday, I had the pleasure of speaking at a Lunch & Learn for Health System leadership about the importance of accountability for both individuals and members of leadership. I am sharing it today via the Health System Intranet for you to review. Whether you are a manager, director or individual staff member, there are worthwhile reminders in the presentation for all of us.

After the presentation, I began thinking about how important the principle of accountability will be to achieving our goal of Best Care this year. You will recall that Best Care is an initiative we are implementing in response to University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven’s challenge that UTMB rank in the top 20 of academic medical centers by August 31, 2017 (as measured by the Vizient* Quality & Accountability Study).

In Stephen Covey’s book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” he contrasts an organization that thinks conventionally with one that thinks in terms of both individual and collective accountability. In the organization with conventional thinking, team accountability is always top down: “We meet with the boss periodically and s/he lets us know how we’re doing and what we should focus on next.” In the organization used for contrast, the individuals on the team collectively share accountability for achieving goals and results: “We make commitments and then we’re accountable to the boss; but more importantly, we are accountable to each other for following through.”

A culture of accountability is crucial to achieving goals, particularly when the storms of change and multiple priorities are whirling around us. Often in these types of environments, teams end up breaking apart because individuals decide to go off on their own to “just get it done”. The goal becomes increasingly difficult to achieve if, within the whirlwind, we are also trying to change the behaviors of a lot of people.

With this in mind, I started thinking about how much we have going on right now. We are really going to need to buckle down, prioritize our work, and maintain a steadfast focus on achieving Best Care, especially because reaching this goal will require changing the behaviors of many people and teams. Failure to achieve Best Care is not an option, because it is the right thing to do for our patients!

everstThe work that we must do to deliver on our promise of Best Care reminds me of the book, “Into Thin Air,” which tells the story of two teams of climbers who attempted to get to the summit of Mount Everest. The first team included the author of the book, Jon Krakauer. He wrote about the numerous adversities his team encountered as they tried to reach the summit. As blizzards, high winds and altitude sickness began to affect the team, certain members decided to split off on their own in an attempt to get to the top. Although each climber had the same goal, by setting out on their own, they abandoned the team and discarded discipline and accountability to each other. The results were disastrous as the weather conditions proved too much for eight of the climbers who ultimately lost their lives.

The second team of climbers included a blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer. If the group succeeded, Erik would become the first blind person to reach the top of Mt. Everest. The biggest difference between this group and first is that at the end of each day, they huddled together in what they called a “tent meeting” to talk about what they had accomplished and what they had learned. The team used the meetings to review their strategy, make needed adjustments in their approach to the climb, and define each member’s role. They also decided who on the team would go ahead to clear the path and secure the ropes so that Erik could climb.

Erik characterized the teamwork this way: “Our team stuck together and took care of each other, which gave me the courage to finish.” The result? On May 25, 2001, the team reached their goal, and Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest.

There are so many lessons to be learned from this story, but here are some of the critical ones that we will need to implement to ensure we achieve Best Care:

  • Form teams that have specific goals for achieving Best Care.
  • Make certain that the team has their specific goal, target and deadline assigned and understood.
  • Encourage the team to engage in developing the plan to achieve the goal.
  • Make sure that everyone on the team understands their role, including the role of the leader.
  • Hold each other accountable for making contributions to the team. Speak up in a kind and understanding way to help a team member who is not fulfilling their role on the team—encourage them, but also be firm about the fact that everyone on the team has to do their part in order to deliver Best Care to every patient, every time.
  • Meet regularly and make adjustments along the way.
  • Celebrate milestones and congratulate individuals who demonstrate exceptional effort along the way.
  • Most importantly, ensure that the patient and their loved ones are at the center of all decisions. This is not about “us” or “me”. It is about doing what is best and right for the patient.

Accountability is critical to any organization’s success. Even if we have all the goals, priorities and metrics set, without accountable leaders, teams and individuals, we cannot achieve our goal. If we commit to these actions, on August 31, 2017, we will have achieved our goal of Best Care.

*Vizient was formerly known as UHC.

accountability

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

Smile, YOU are UTMB Health!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn last week’s Friday Flash Report, we explored the idea of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital as a symbol of UTMB Health’s transformation over the years. We also acknowledged the hospital’s opening as an opportunity to affirm and nurture UTMB’s renewal through demonstrating a welcoming, caring culture each day. Whatever our role, we are all representatives of UTMB Health, and we all work together to make the experience of UTMB an exceptional one for our patients and their loved ones.

You should all feel very proud of the important contributions you each make at UTMB. Whether you work from behind the scenes to keep our facilities operational or deliver meals to our patients, whether you work in a lab or prepare medications, whether you help keep UTMB beautiful by providing a clean environment or deliver patient care in a clinic or inpatient unit, whether you greet patients at a front desk or help them find the resources they need to say healthy, you all contribute to making UTMB Health the healthcare system that it is. And while our new hospital represents the hard work of hundreds of people who put in thousands of hours of work to make it a reality, buildings are not what make UTMB Health. It is you – our people.

As I speak with employees in different areas across the organization, I see the pride you all have in your work, and I know you put your best foot forward each day. When I walk the halls of our many different locations, there is one behavior in particular I see that I would like for everyone at UTMB Health to practice, and it is something that speaks volumes about our caring health care environment: SMILE!

There is a philosophy in the hospitality industry known as the “15-5 Rule”. For example, at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, the rule states that when you see someone at a distance of 15 feet and private conversations cease, give visual recognition, such as a smile. At five feet, acknowledge the person, and if needed, listen and offer assistance. It takes less than two seconds to make a first impression!

I know for some individuals who feel a little shy at times, this may seem like an uncomfortable practice at first. For others, we may find ourselves thinking deeply about something that happened that particular day, and we forget to smile at and acknowledge the people who we pass. At other times, we may say hello to someone, and they don’t reply in return (which may be part of their personal cultural practice). But more often than not, I find that when I greet someone with a smile, they smile back, and the more I make it a conscious effort to practice this, the more positive my environment feels.

I sometimes wonder, what keeps us from interacting with others in this simple way? Whether our passing interaction is with a patient or visitor to the hospital, or even a fellow employee, I think it is helpful to remember we are all human beings. What if we thought of them as going through the same things as we are, whether we are celebrating something special or we are in the midst of a difficult time in our lives? What might change if we thought of everyone we pass as being just like us?

You may be familiar with the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” There is great truth to this adage. We realize that patients and their loved ones are often going through very challenging and stressful times when hospitalized. However, a hospital experience isn’t always this way. It can also be an experience of healing or the celebration of a new beginning. So by the same token, it can be a wonderful gift to let others know how you’re celebrating with them!

If we try to think of each person we pass as being a little more like us, and if we live our UTMB values by treating them not only with compassion and respect, but with a smile and eye contact as well, we will probably notice some pretty nice changes! This is a wonderful way we can support a welcoming and caring atmosphere each and every day!

smile


Don’t forget! Next week, we will be enjoying a series of
Jennie Sealy Hospital Dedication Events!
 

The Scenery You Miss

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ~Eddie Cantor

Earlier this week, I was having a very busy day. It was already past noon, and I was between meetings with just enough time to walk over to the cafeteria from my office, grab a sandwich and run back to my office to eat it. However, when I arrived at Café on the Court, it looked like everyone else on campus had the exact same schedule as I did – it was packed! All of the lines to the cashiers were long, and I started to grow concerned that I might not get back to my office in time for the meeting, let alone to eat my lunch. My mood started to sink.

I recently learned there is a slang word for feeling hungry and grumpy at the same time: “Hangry”! It’s a funny word that can surely only be found in an urban dictionary, but no matter what you call it, we’ve all experienced that overwhelming irritability that takes over when we’ve gone too long without food. Turns out, there is actually some science behind it – skipping meals can trigger us to feel overwhelmed with feelings. It’s exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

As I hurriedly made my way to exit the cafeteria, I was approached by Dr. Belinda Escamilla, director of Radiology Services. “Hi, Donna,” she said. “I know you’re very busy, but do you have a minute?” All I could do was think about my lunch and my next meeting. I honestly did not think I could last another hour on an empty stomach. True, it was my fault – I had done what we are always told not to do – I had skipped breakfast. Unfortunately, I felt as though my body language might be communicating my distraction to Belinda.

“I want to introduce you to this gentleman, Tommy,” she continued. Tommy wore a navy blue shirt and a badge with a “C” on it, which told me he was a contract maintenance worker. “Last week in your Friday Flash Report, you wrote about Random Acts of Kindness, and how it should be a goal in 2016 to try and do one random act of kindness daily for someone. Well, I just observed Tommy talking to the cashier, pointing out five different people – he was paying for everyone’s meals!”

Tommy explained that this was just something he liked to do. Even when eating out, he said he sometimes likes to leave a generous tip for the wait staff. I knew this was true of him, because he didn’t realize anyone was watching him and had just demonstrated his generosity! I thought about what a kind gesture this was.

As I walked back to my office, with plenty of time to eat, I started feeling a little guilty. I had so many things on my mind in that moment in the cafeteria, and I was so worried about all the things I had to do that afternoon, I had forgotten to be in the present moment. I had forgotten to simply take a minute for someone else! By the time I arrived at my office, I felt I needed to immediately call Belinda to thank her for the introduction and to apologize if I had seemed anything less than engaged in our conversation.

I suspect that most of us have probably been at fault for this sort of thing at one time or another in our lives. We often become so wrapped up in what we are doing that we fail to realize that stress shows, and it can affect our body language, demeanor, and sometimes even the way we treat others. What is worse, it can cause us to overlook really important things, such as a patient in need of assistance or a broken piece of equipment. It may cause us to take a shortcut that could end up harming ourselves or someone else. It can even result in a missed opportunity to show kindness and compassion to someone else—such a brief interaction, missed or taken, could impact another person in either a very positive or negative way.

I needed the lesson to remind me that in order to make a positive impact, I should always try to take advantage of opportunities I’m given to help and show support for others. Instead of thinking about the afternoon ahead of me and what I needed to do, I should have been thinking about the great opportunity I had in the present to talk to and meet some incredible people! To fully live our value of compassion, we need to see the need that is before us and meet it. We need to recognize others and the work that they do. Yesterday was a good reminder for me that I needed to live this value more fully by staying engaged in the present when I am out and about and have the opportunity to meet and talk to some amazing people – like you!

A book I read a while back called “Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life” says that sometimes the things we think we need to carry around with us are unnecessary. We become so consumed by thinking about the weight of our “backpack” that we forget to look at the world with a sense of curiosity and a feeling of wonder – or in my case, I almost forgot the importance of slowing down so that I could give my full attention to meeting a very kind, generous person and to show my appreciation for the director who simply didn’t want me to miss an opportunity to meet a wonderful person. Thanks, Belinda Escamilla, for making sure I did not miss out!

slowdown

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.”

If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout six years ago, my daughter, Shannon, decided she wanted to train for the Houston Marathon. Prior to this, she had never run even a half-marathon, so she knew she would need to start training a year ahead of time in order to be ready. She also asked her husband, who was a dedicated runner, to run alongside her the day of the marathon. When I asked her why she wanted Wes to run with her, she said she wanted him there to encourage her to continue when she reached the point in the race where she would want to quit.

The race went as planned, and about two-thirds of the way into it, she “hit the wall”. At this point, Wes encouraged her to keep going and continued to do so until the finish line of the race was literally in sight. They both finished the race! No records were set that day, but the personal satisfaction of finishing what she started has given Shannon a great sense of personal satisfaction. She later told me that had it not been for Wes, she probably would not have finished the race. Meanwhile, Wes told me the satisfaction he got from helping Shannon meet her personal goal was very satisfying to him, as well. Together, they were able to go far!

UTMB’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Selwyn Rogers, recently shared a quote that resonated with me. It’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Shannon’s vision to run and finish a marathon was supported by her strategy to surround herself by someone with whom she had a strong relationship and who she knew she could depend on for support during her journey to the finish line. Meanwhile, individual abilities like Wes’s endurance and supporting nature also contributed to their shared success in completing an amazing challenge together.

When we set out on a journey, whether it is in pursuit of something we wish to achieve individually or as a team, it’s easy to start off feeling very ambitious. But it’s also important to realize what will be required to sustain our progress. There are a couple of important things about success that Shannon’s experience illustrated to me: it’s important to prepare for our journey, whatever that may be, and recognize when we will need the help of others; and, if we don’t pace ourselves accordingly or don’t have the right support in place along the way, we may either run out of steam or feel like quitting before we reach our goal.

Discovering what we can accomplish as an individual (that is, our strengths and our talent) is something that we can use to support others on our team and encourage them along. Our own personal gifts can often help everyone go further and make the collective achievement even greater. Success is more than simply defining our goals and then determining how we can most rapidly achieve them with the greatest odds of success. It’s about constantly surrounding ourselves with amazing, talented people and building deep relationships with them along the way to success.

These are keys points to remember as we travel The Road Ahead!

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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