Several years ago I was leading a management workshop at a very large health system. With over 200 people in the room, there was spirited discussion about the opportunities and obstacles to improving the patient experience in the system’s hospitals. I noticed one of the leaders patiently holding her hand up near the back of the room and made my way back to give her the microphone.
She hesitantly started, “I’m the director of Environmental Services, and I know we don’t have a direct impact on patients’ care, but ….”
While I hated to interrupt her, I just couldn’t let her opening statement stand without a polite challenge.
“I’m really sorry, but I have to interrupt,” I respectfully said. “I have a list of stories as long as my arm from patients all over the country who have such grateful, heartfelt things to say about the difference a housekeeper made in their stay and making them feel more comfortable. Your staff plays an extremely important role in taking care of patients.”
She smiled. “Well, yes. I know you’re right,” she humbly replied. And then made her point more confidently and proudly.
Every member of a health care organization’s team can and should be a caregiver. Even if you work in accounting, IT or the laundry, you can greet patients and family members in elevators, stop and help them find their way in hallways and hold the door open as they enter the hospital. Many hospitals have instituted “No Pass Zone” guidelines that require any staff member to respond to a call light when they are walking through a patient care unit.
Staying grounded and connected to the important work of taking care of patients is especially important for senior executives. Selfishly, one of my favorite things to do when I was the CEO of Phoenix Children’s Hospital was to go out and talk with patients and their families. I always found the experience extremely rewarding and humbling as I met unbelievably brave kids coping with serious injuries and illnesses. Yes, sometimes I heard complaints. But 99% of the time families shared how grateful they were to be in the care of our dedicated, compassionate staff.
Every member of a health care organization’s team can and should be a caregiver. Even if you work in accounting, IT or the laundry, you can greet patients and family members in elevators, stop and help them find their way in hallways and hold the door open as they enter the hospital.
While it is not why I spent time with patients and families, I have to admit that the expressions of gratitude I’d occasionally get from families meant a lot to me. A few weeks after we opened the new hospital in Phoenix, which was the first comprehensive, freestanding children’s hospital in Arizona, I heard a mom and dad shouting my name down the long first-floor main corridor.
“Mr. Stamp, Mr. Stamp, do you have a minute,” they called. And when we reached each other, Mom took my forearm, looked me in the eyes and said, “I just want you to know what a difference you’ve made in my son’s life. This new hospital is beyond what we could have imagined. Thank you.”
I was so humbled that I was at a loss for words (which those who know me would tell you is a rare occurrence!). I instinctively hugged her and simply replied, “You are so welcome.”
Encouraging everyone in a healthcare organization to think of him/herself as a caregiver is the right thing to do for patients and families. But perhaps as importantly, developing a culture where all team members make supportive connections with patients is the right thing to do for employees as well. More often than not, the kindness and compassion they extend is returned in a way that makes everyone’s day brighter.
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