Great Service in Unexpected Places

Southside Regional Medical Center, for 20+ years, has been the hospital to avoid in the Petersburg/Hopewell/Colonial Heights area. They were notorious for not having enough ER doctors on staff, terrible patient satisfaction reviews, and old and antiquated medical procedures. My grandparents have been to the hospital so much in the last 20 years that if SRMC had a frequent flyer program they’d be George Clooney from “Up in the Air.” But we were always worried about their care in this hospital that seemed, frankly, dangerous if you needed immediate care. David Fikse, the CEO of the hospital from 2004-2010 changed all that when he introduced a new culture. Fikse led the charge to move the hospital to a new location with state of the art technology. He also redefined the values and the mission of the hospital to emphasize caring and responsiveness in addition to the emphasis on skills and training. Last week, when my grandpa had to go in for emergency surgery (he’s doing very well now, by the way), I noticed a huge change in what I had always thought of as a very deficient hospital. Here are a few examples:

One of the first things I noticed was that employees greeted us wherever we went. If an employee passed by, whether it was a nurse, security guard, doctor or janitor, they all greeted us and asked us how we were doing. We were given a restaurant-seating-style pager when he was taken down to surgery, allowing us to move freely around the hospital (cafeteria, gift shop, coffee shop, and even the maternity ward where they played Braham’s lullaby every time a baby was born) without feeling like we would miss something important. This took a lot of stress out of waiting for 5 hours because it gave us time to walk around and get our minds on something besides “I wonder how it’s going in there.” When we did sit in the surgery waiting area, the OR nurse gave us periodic updates on how surgery was progressing. There were certain outcomes (besides “death” as the obvious one) we were afraid of, so when they hit milestones in the procedure that meant those outcomes seemed unlikely, she came out and informed us. When the surgery was over, the doctor came out and discussed the procedure and results with us. He even brought out a picture of the area they had performed surgery on (as a before picture), to show us what had been causing his pain. Since the area they operated on was the colon, I personally could have done without this, but I’m sure it’s helpful to people with stronger stomachs. When we left to take my grandmother to dinner while he was in recovery, there was an employee with a golf cart waiting by the entrance to transport elderly and disabled visitors to their cars so they didn’t have to walk so far.

None of these things have a direct impact on the skill set of the doctors and nurses in the hospital, but as a worried visitor or patient, they make you feel cared for and ease your mind. Indirectly, they have a huge impact on the skill set of the doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses want to work in the best hospitals. The best hospitals have high patient satisfaction ratings, the newest technologies, and a reputation for innovation. By investing in small ways, like increasing patient satisfaction through better interactions with hospital employees, and in big ways like moving to a new location and infusing better technologies, SRMC can lure the best doctors over time and continually increase their ratings. The doctor who performed my grandfather’s surgery was a recent addition to the hospital’s staff from Johns Hopkins.

The hospital’s rankings have improved, but still seem to be suffering from some lingering sentiment from its old days, but over the next few years I’d look for SRMC to climb into the Top 5 ranking for Richmond area hospitals as it continues to grow and place emphasis on caring for patients versus treating patients. I have a lot of friends in the medical field, anyone care to weigh in on SRMC?

Warning: Self Improvement Can Be Habit Forming

Before I started this blog, I thought about leadership and things that I liked in leaders and of course, like everyone, the things I didn’t like in leaders. But applying it was always sort of an afterthought. One of the methods I always used to study in school was to take notes as I read through articles and textbooks, forcing my brain to pause and digest the information. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that writing about leadership has had the same effect on my ability to process the topic. It’s now on my mind all the time and I’m seeing examples and lessons where I probably wouldn’t have before.

The brain is configured to resist change. Without boring you too much with the scientific details, the hypothalamus works to remind the brain that the behavior and routines that got you where you are have kept you alive thus far and tells you that you should probably just keep doing what you’re doing. Making rapid or dramatic changes can result in stress, which is your brain’s way of trying to tell you that something isn’t a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, but your brain has never experienced it so it doesn’t have any information to tell you that it is, and as a result it takes a protective stance. This is why, for example, people who go from a routine that doesn’t include a workout find it difficult to get a workout routine together when they start off by saying “I’m going to start working out 5 days a week!” Conversely, this is also why it’s easier for someone whose routine has included 5-day-a-week workouts for some time to keep up the momentum.

But you can train your brain in tiny steps. If you’re interested in something, and it’s on your brain enough even subconsciously, you start to see it wherever you go. It’s kind of like the ads that appear on the internet because of some content you’ve visited before. I’ve booked so many Disney trips that I can’t even open a browser without an ad for Walt Disney World appearing (maybe it’s working and that’s why I go back so much…?). Your browser learns what you’ve been searching for and reading about, and serves up ads for you even when you’re not really thinking about that topic, like when you’re on facebook. Your brain can be trained in the same way when you focus it on a topic. I trained my brain on the concept of leadership, and now it seems to jump out at me wherever I go. Now, I’m training myself on my values by consciously using them while I process information and make decisions so that eventually they become ingrained in my thought process consciously or unconsciously.

What would you like your brain to focus on? A workout routine? A diet? Learning a new language? Studying something? Devote the time to it up front, using whatever method is best for you to make sure your brain is processing the information. For me, it’s writing it, for you maybe it’s reciting it to yourself, talking about it with others, or maybe just reading about it works for you. If you devote the time up front and get your brain honed in on the topic, you’ll see a compounding effect on every step you take toward your goal.