The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Blog Art - 5-16Greetings everyone and Happy Monday!

In September of last year, I wrote a relatively short piece on the merits of change and how I have long believed two things about the subject of change: first, it is inevitable and second, the best time to change is when you don’t have to. I mentioned how the best organizations truly understand change is not so much to be managed, as it is to be achieved if an organization would dare to move from good to great.

Little did I know then that in just eight short months how prophetic those words would turn out to be…

Today, we at Capella proudly announced that we had completed a merger with RegionalCare Hospital Partners to form RCCH HealthCare Partners (RegionalCare Capella Healthcare). The coming together of these two similar organizations creates a single $1.7 billion healthcare organization with 16 regional health systems operating in 12 states, which along with its 13,000 team members and 2,000+ physicians is privileged to provide care to almost 2 million patients annually. The end result is a financially stronger, geographically more diverse, and better equipped quality-focused organization that will be able to even better support its current and future partner communities. A true game-changer if there was ever one!

However, also in that same piece, I spent an equal amount of time detailing what could NEVER CHANGE.  And that is healthcare always has been – and always will be – about the patients who need care and people who provide that care. Remaining true to, and focused on, these two constituents will ensure that in the midst of all the change, the core values, mission and vision of legacy Capella – now part of RCCH – will remain unchanged.

Because some things can never change.

“When [what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine] come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.” 

― James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

With Grace and Gratitude

So there I was, sitting in church Sunday, not really paying attention because I kept mentally drifting away trying to come up with my long overdue blog topic. I was in a not-so-pleasant state-of-mind because I actually dread blogging (I will get to that later). But then suddenly, the pastor said something that caught my attention and snapped me back into the moment:

Matthew's Art“For a life to be lived well, it must be with a true sense of gratitude, achieved only in a disciplined and intentional way where you take the time to consider the things that you are grateful for.”

Don’t you just hate it when you go to church and you feel like the pastor is calling you out? It was like he was saying to me directly: “Hey!  Hey you, over there, this message is for you so you might want to pay attention. And, by the way, if you want, feel free to blog about it.”

Message received, loud and clear.

So, in this special season of thanksgiving and sharing, I thought I would share a little about those things that I am grateful for…things I never should – but occasionally do – take for granted.

  • The Gift of Freedom – As an American, I am grateful for the freedoms and liberties that I am afforded that too few in this world will truly know. Freedom for the little things – like expressing my views in a blog – which I too often taken for granted, because let’s be honest, they haven’t really cost me much. But that doesn’t mean a heavy price hasn’t been paid by someone. And because of that, I am grateful to those who have paid that price to provide me that freedom and those who sacrifice even today to protect that freedom – our veterans and current military personnel.
  • Family & Friends Who Make Life Worth Living – I am grateful that I have a family that I adore and a few good friends who accept me for who I am. Good friends who make me laugh and keep me humble because they know the real me, not just the healthcare executive. They enrich my life with their presence.
  • Serving in a Vocation Dedicated to Helping Others – I am grateful for the privilege of working in healthcare and to be able to make a living by providing help to others in their greatest time of need. I sometimes take this privilege for granted as I get caught up in the “business” of healthcare and lose sight of the purpose of healthcare. Moreover, how fortunate I am to be able to pursue my passion for healthcare in a company like Capella Healthcare.
  • A Peace That Surpasses All Understanding – And finally, in a world increasingly marked by chaos and calamity, I am grateful that I have obtained – through no effort on my own but through grace alone – a Peace that surpasses all understanding (James 16:33).

Earlier I said I dreaded blogging (actually all social media) and here’s why. While I love to communicate with others, I hate the unilateral nature of blogging where it’s me “talking” and the reader “listening.” I much prefer an exchange, an interaction, a sharing of thoughts and ideas. Unlike many social media platforms that tend to be author-centric, I don’t presume my thoughts are in any way more interesting or valid than yours. I admit it, I simply don’t get the whole “look at me,” selfie generation.

But you can help me with that, at least this one time.

If you have already wasted five minutes of your life reading this, do me a favor and in the comments section mention something that you are grateful for this season. It could be one word, one paragraph or one page – doesn’t matter. From across Capella, we will take your words of gratitude and create a graphic that conveys our corporate sense of gratitude and I will share with you right before the New Year.

Who knows, I might even write a blog about it…

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to all!

 

P.S. The art above was drawn by Matthew Hazzard, seven year-old son of Jennifer Hazzard, RN, who works at Southwestern Medical Center in Lawton, Oklahoma.  Matthew, who was one of the Grand Prize winners in Capella’s 2nd Annual Children’s Holiday Art Contest, certainly seems to understand the concept of thankfulness, even at age seven. To see all of the winning art, visit our website:  Children’s Holiday Art Contest.

Capella Healthcare: The Next Chapter

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
― James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

I have long believed two things about change: first, it is inevitable and second, the best time to change is when you don’t have to. The former is a truism held by many, the latter is understood by only those rare organizations that truly understand change is not so much to be managed as it is to be achieved if an organization would dare to move from good to great.

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Over the past decade, thanks to great leaders across the company, Capella has come from a just a good idea to a great company that annually makes a difference in over 800,000 lives by providing compassionate care close to home. During our first ten years, Capella has established itself as a growth-oriented healthcare system that has differentiated itself through sustained and significant progress in quality improvement and service to others. It is clearly something we all should be proud of, and yet – at the same time – can never grow content or satisfied with. We must be willing to change if we want to continue to get better and better. It is in that spirit that I am pleased to announce that effective today, Capella Healthcare has partnered with Medical Properties Trust, Inc. (MPT) to usher in its next chapter of growth, quality improvement and service to others.

Our partnership with MPT will enable Capella to continue making meaningful investments in our existing communities while partnering with even more communities. However, perhaps in the greatest “change forward,” this enables us to establish a community-based governance model that will give greater voice to our local physicians, board members and hospital leaders in setting both the agenda and expectations for the company over next decade. There will be nothing like it in the private healthcare industry, and it will make Capella better because the best ideas are always local.

So, in an industry grappling with immense change and uncertainty, there are two constants that we can count on. And that is that healthcare always has been and always will be about the patients who need care and the people who provide that care. Remaining true to and focused on these two constituents will ensure that in the midst of all the change, the mission, vision and values of Capella will remain unchanged.

Because some things can never change.

“When [what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine] come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.” 
― James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

 

Celebrating a Milestone

10th-year-anniversaryDuring April, a couple of significant milestones were achieved.

April 18 marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of Capella Healthcare. While the official date of the company’s founding is only a decade ago, each of our hospitals has served their respective communities significantly longer than 10 years.  From Highlands Medical Center at 111 and Southwestern Medical Center at 108 to our youngest, Capital Medical Center at just 30, our hospitals have a total of 810 combined years of service, representing an average of 73 years of service each.

More significantly, each year more than 6,500 associates and 1,300 affiliated physicians are providing care for more than 750,000 patient encounters.  That’s amazing when you step back and really consider what an incredible privilege that reflects!

The other milestone?  I just turned 50.  Turning the big 5-0 is one of those birthdays where folks tend to get a little introspective as they consider the “sunset” ahead of them. As I’ve been reflecting on my half century of existence, I’m even more aware of the many ways in which I’ve been blessed personally.

  • What an honor it is to be able to serve with you at this unique family we call Capella.  Even with the numerous industry challenges, our hospitals have made significant and sustained progress and been recognized for their quality, service and “best workplace” accomplishments. And Capella has been recognized nationally for our growth.
  • Dan Slipkovich and Michael Wiechart

    A new leadership award was established in honor of Founder and Executive Board Chair Dan Slipkovich in 2014, in association with Capella’s 10th year of service. It is designed to recognize an associate whose leadership style and achievements demonstrate the integrity and commitment he exemplifies. Read more about the inaugural award presentation last summer to Rosemari Davis of Willamette Valley Medical Center.

    What a privilege it has been to have so many colleagues and mentors who’ve been willing to invest in me personally… no one more than our founder Dan Slipkovich, now serving as Executive Board Chair, who has been a mentor of mine for most of my 25 years in healthcare.  In fact, I’ve worked for Dan in three different companies.  And, I wouldn’t be here at Capella now without his leadership, encouragement and support.

  • What a blessing it is to have the love and support of my family.  My first blogs were about my most important mentors – my mom and dad.  And now, every single day I am inspired and motivated by my wonderful wife Lisa and two daughters Alexandra and Audrey, who support me even though my job often takes me away from home.
Mike, Lisa and daughters

Mike and Lisa, along with their daughters, participated in the Viva La Diva race in Franklin, benefitting Fifty Forward.

Not a lot of people know this, but when I was younger, I seriously considered going into the ministry. Eventually, I came to realize that my true “calling” was to be a husband and father and to serve in health care.  I believe as we serve others – using the talents, skills, wisdom and experiences our Creator gave us to their fullest extent – we are living out our calling. It’s just icing on the cake (thinking about birthdays here) when you can do this at a company like Capella where you think of your co-workers as friends and family… at a place where, no matter what significant changes may impact the health care industry, our values and priorities will remain unchanged.

Celebrating milestones gives us the opportunity to express our appreciation to those who are making a difference.   And, so to everyone who has made a difference in my life, and – more importantly – to all of those making a difference every day in the lives of those we serve, please accept my genuine and humble thanks. I look forward to continuing to serve with you as – together – we continue to live out our mission.  Finally, it is my hope that, whatever milestones you are celebrating this year, you will be able to see the blessings all around you.

Have I Got a Deal for You!

I recently received in the mail at work a random seminar solicitation called “Happiness is Within You.” Generally speaking, I am pretty efficient at dealing with the seemingly endless nonsense that finds its way into my inbox which typically involves a quick look and an untimely “File 13” ending, not even worthy of being recycled. However, something about this particular pamphlet caught my eye.

Seminar GraphicThe gist of the pamphlet was the promise of lifelong happiness and success through some basic techniques obtained through a program which promised to “unlock the secret of happiness and lifelong contentment.” Really? Lifelong happiness right there in my finger tips and all I had to do was to write a check. Sign me up, please.

Skeptical but curious, I scanned the pamphlet which explained that each of us is in control of our own happiness solely through the realization of our desire for it. It explained that wealth, healing relationships, and career successes are not a function of anything but your own desires for them. In other words, it’s all up to you and it’s already within you. Self-actualization on mental steroids and available for a modest fee.

Again I say, really?

Now, to be perfectly clear, I absolutely believe each of us does control a measure of our own happiness and success. How we react to and deal with life’s circumstances is within our control. But clearly that is significantly different than suggesting we can control all circumstances and that happiness can be obtained through our means and efforts alone. If anybody believes that, I suggest you tell that to the mother in Haiti who is struggling to feed her children after a hurricane has decimated their home. Or to the homeless orphan in the Ukraine.  Or the young father with incurable cancer. I hate to be the one to break the news to you…  but we are all circumstantially limited in our capacity to achieve our own happiness and no amount of money, friends, career success or self-help seminars are going to get us there. I don’t care what they tell you on late night infomercials.

It is not in my nature to tell others how to live their personal lives.  First, there is a lot I don’t have figured out yet (and probably never will) and thus my hesitancy to write this in the first place.  But this is, after all, a personal blog and blogs are just opinions so for what it is worth, it has become clear to me that we are all “wired for struggle,” a concept fleshed out by Professor Brené Brown* in her popular 2010 Ted Talk.  This makes sense to me since I believe that we are all born with an empty space within our hearts that we spend our whole lives struggling to fill. Simply put, it is the struggle to move beyond being born “hole-hearted”, and living out our lives “whole-hearted.”

Achieving this wholeheartedness, as Brené describes it, is the real key to happiness, and I am pretty sure you are not going to find that in any self-help pamphlet. It seems counterintuitive, but wholeheartedness can only be achieved when you empty yourself out for others, and not by filling yourself with artificial substitutions available for purchase or striving for popularity, recognition or riches. Think of it as addition by subtraction, or becoming more by being less. Whether it be your family, your neighbors, that orphan in Ukraine or the patient you care for today, living for others empties us of our emptiness, and fills us with something that cannot be taken away when circumstances change (as they undoubtedly will).

Mother Teresa once said that “A life not lived for others is not a life.” Many who have chosen the profession of health care did so because they already knew this secret.  She also said: “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’”

To my  Capella colleagues, thank you for giving so much of your lives to care for your patients as well as for your families, friends and communities.  I hope you’ve discovered the happiness that comes from wholehearted living.

 

*Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.  Be sure to check out her brief TEDxHouston talk here:   Brené  Brown’s TEDxHouston Talk

The King of Character

Good day and happy (belated) New Year!

I woke up early this morning in the mood to blog. A mood no doubt brought on by that annoying “overdue” task named monthly blog highlighted in red in my Outlook task list. Well, so much for that resolution of no more procrastinating. I will try to work on it next year… assuming I can get around to it.

The weekend morning started in the usual way: coffee, dogs out and fed, more coffee, and check work emails before settling in for my morning devotion and scouring Facebook, Twitter and the web to get an any update on my daughter who is serving a short-term mission trip in Haiti with a door to hope. Slightly off the topic, but it’s a mixed bag of emotions when your kid goes out of the country into a third world country to do something like that. Concern for their safety and well-being, anxiety because information is limited, and of course, immense pride in what they are doing. All’s well and I am grateful, and can’t wait to hear about her experiences.

This morning’s devotion reading was a perfectly timed message. I say this because it was about the leadership trait of personal character, which got me thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we are celebrating this coming Monday. It reminded me of my favorite Dr. King quote:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In my opinion, Dr. King deserves to be on the “Mount Rushmore” of character along with Jesus, Gandhi and Lincoln. They were all notable individuals who altered human history and shared the common threads of the pursuit of peaceful change, personal humility, and a purposeful life. A purpose, I might add, that was so compelling and so important that they would share another thing in common: each would give their life for it.

As I considered more, all these thoughts (Haiti, MLK, devotion) converged into one of those “ah ha” moments of caffeine-fueled clarity. I have always read and been taught that character as a leadership trait is a “thing” to be developed, forged from the fires of adversity or challenges to individual betterment. More or less, it’s something to be accomplished or obtained. I now realize that this is the wrong way to think about it because character development is not an “end” unto itself, but a “means to an end.” A developed character becomes a tool or an instrument through which we are able to live in harmony with others, at peace with ourselves, and ultimately a life pleasing to our Creator. And like any tool or instrument, it is only useful to the extent it is actually used. Which leads to the obvious question of “to what end?” which is best answered in the words (and actions) of Dr. King himself:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

Dr. King’s question is an important question that each of us must ask ourselves because it gets to the heart of our character, and our true motives for developing it. And by inference, it indicts the alternative (i.e. “doing for ourselves”) which, while it may be providing a very temporal form of self-satisfaction, ultimately leaves us feeling empty and void. I have yet to meet a person who lives the alternative who is truly happy; rather, they only project a facade of happiness veneered on by the superficial and easy wins of life.

A well-developed character is the means to a well-lived life for others. Dr. King’s life and legacy testifies to this truth. We best honor him by “doing for others”!

A Season of Service

Well friends, it’s been a while since I’ve written and I am truly sorry about that! No excuses other than when I agreed I would do a blog, my one and only condition was that only I would write it and it would not be done by a ghost writers or a publicist. And frankly, after the first three blogs, I just felt I needed to pull back some. But, I am back in the game now and commit to those of you who emailed me asking “when is the next one?” that I will put one out there at least every month. Stay tuned and thanks for hanging in there with me.

The Fall is by far my favorite season of the year. I love the changing colors, the crispness in the air, and aromatic smell of wood and leaves burning outside.  It’s also when all my favorite sports passions are in full stride including college football, the Tennessee Titans, and most importantly, the season tipoff for my beloved Kentucky Wildcats basketball. In fact, the only downside to Fall is the dreaded Daylight Savings Time change that has it pitch black at 4:30 p.m.  and me wanting to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. that first week. Thank goodness for Starbucks because it’s absolutely brutal!

1But, there is another reason I’ve come to love Fall.
Fall also just so happens to be the time of the year when the majority of Capella’s corporate office charitable and community service efforts take place.  Fall has truly become a “Season of Service” for us. Over the next few months, we will be privileged to help build a Habitat for Humanity house (more on that later), launch our annual United Way campaign (including the Full Tummies, Warm Hearts Thanksgiving baskets for underprivileged families), head over to Hot Springs, AR, to support the Kamo’s Kids Foundation Winter Golf Winter scramble, participate in the Viva La Diva race benefitting Fifty Forward, and then in what has become an highly anticipated holiday tradition for us, spend an afternoon at the Nashville Rescue Mission sponsoring and serving a special holiday meal to the homeless of Middle Tennessee.

2(BTW, I know what some of you are thinking…playing golf is a service? But seriously, if you saw my golf game even in the best of conditions – much less early December – you would know that playing golf for me is truly laboring for a great cause!).

Seriously, this Season of Service is when Capella functions at its highest level and achieves the most. It is when through service to others, the stress of the daily “grind” is for a moment set aside in favor of more important things. And it’s not that all the tough stuff magically goes away by any means because it doesn’t.  It’s just that it all gets put into perspective and, at least for me, I reconnect in a meaningful way to why I got into healthcare in the first place and why I love working at Capella.

However, there is another reason this time of year and these efforts are special. Because it is one thing to give money quietly to deserving charities and the needy, but it is another thing to go out there and serve personally, living in the world of those less fortunate, if but for a few minutes.  When that happens, there are no titles, no seniority, and no positions more (or less) important than any other. For the homeless guy who passes through the food line in December, it doesn’t matter that I am the CEO and person next to me is not. All that matters is that there are two people doing something – seemingly small as that is – to show they care. And that is what I mean when I say we function at our “highest level” – equally aligned and accountable not by our positions, but by our contributions.

Of course, in the communities we serve throughout the country, employees, volunteers and physicians also give their time to many remarkable community service projects.  You can read about more of their outstanding work on our website:  Serving our Communities.   I am so proud of – and inspired – by all they do.

I3 mentioned earlier the Habitat for Humanity build, and wanted to let you know how blessed our corporate office was to be able to co-sponsor and help build a very special home in Franklin, TN.  While we did not plan it this way, in a quite fortuitous “doubling down” on the theme of service to others, it just so happens that the house we got to work on was for Mr. Harold Allen, a disabled military veteran (shown above at the wall-raising ceremony).  Through the amazing work of Williamson County’s Habitat for Humanity and the generous gifts of service by others, he will be moving into his first home just in time for the holidays. Mr. Allen, we are in awe and appreciation of your service to our country – the greatest service there is and one we all too often take for granted. We at Capella Healthcare thank and salute you, Sir!  We look forward to attending the dedication of your new home on Veteran’s Day!

In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the service to others that happens every day inside Capella facilities across the country. Whether it is in a non-clinical, support role like mine where you serve those who serve our patients, or more importantly, the clinicians who directly provide healing and comfort to their friends, families and neighbors – thank you for making service to others what we are all about. You make every day a Season of Service!

Mathew 25: 35-40

In Memoriam

First of all, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read and comment on last month’s blog post regarding my experience with my Dad’s end-of-life care and the exceptional healthcare individuals encountered throughout the journey. The response has been overwhelming, and while it was never intended to be something that got picked up outside the internal blog post, I am gratified to know it touched so many. Also, I’d like to extend a special thanks to those who took time to write me personally to share their own stories.

It’s been a while since that last post, and for good reason. I just returned from an extended vacation with my wife, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. This was a “bucket list” trip that I planned for a long time and surprised my wife with earlier this year. I had already drafted an extensive post about our journey, but late last night I decided to shelve that for something much more important.

While overseas, on July 4, I received the tragic news that one of our hospital CEOs – Donnie Frederic, of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville, Ark. – had passed away after suffering a major heart attack while vacationing in Montreal with his wife. My heart immediately sank because I knew that Capella, Saint Mary’s and the Russellville community had lost a great one. I had no idea just how great, however, until I had the honor of attending his memorial service.

To be honest, I never got to know Donnie on a personal level as well as I would have liked. That said, I have long been an admirer of his accomplishments in his all-too-short two-year tenure, which culminated with winning Capella’s CEO Leadership Award for leadership excellence in just his second year at the helm of the Russellville hospital.

Leadership… everyone talks about it, but few can actually define it. Within the Capella world, we often acknowledge the abstract nature of it by describing a truly effective leader as someone who “gets it.”

But what do I mean when I describe someone as “getting it”?

I am talking about leaders who speak softly but lead firmly; leaders who value and invest in their relationships with both physicians and employees; leaders who are relatable, transparent and not afraid to occasionally be vulnerable with those they lead; and most importantly, leaders who have a passion for what they do and a compassion for whom they serve.

Make no mistake, Donnie Frederic absolutely GOT IT. I assumed this before. I know it for sure now.

Dr. Finley Turner, elder community statesman and retired CMO of Saint Mary’s, described Donnie as the “nicest man he had ever met.” Since I, like many others, have long considered Dr. Turner himself to be the nicest person I have ever met, this was like Moses paying tribute to the depth of Elijah’s faith.

I heard Tim Copeland, Chief Quality Officer of Saint Mary’s, speak of how Donnie would attend every new employee orientation, to meet new employees personally. Donnie used this time with the new hires to describe what he called the “Mama Standard of Care” – that we treat each patient as if they were our mama.

I heard Wendell VanEs, longtime CFO of Saint Mary’s, describe how Donnie would celebrate successes with staff by randomly throwing beads in meetings (a nod to his Louisiana roots).

And I heard stories of how Donnie humbly acknowledged his own human limitations by insisting that department and administrative staff meetings begin – and end – with prayer, seeking wisdom and guidance while acknowledging the sanctity of our calling. For those who don’t know, Saint Mary’s is ironically not a faith-based organization, but Donnie assured that is was indeed faith-filled.

And lastly, I heard Tim Copeland describe how deeply Donnie loved his wife and soul mate, Jeanne, and how good it was for the staff to see this – fully understanding that any man who could so thoroughly love and treasure his wife was someone who valued what was important and could be deeply trusted.

As I said earlier, my heart sank when I learned of Donnie’s passing, knowing the void it would create for Saint Mary’s and the broader Russellville community. After I attended the memorial service honoring this incredible man, I still feel that way, but I also feel something else – a sense of true optimism and gratitude. Another measure of “getting it” – of truly effective leadership – is that values must transcend the individual himself and endure beyond the leader’s presence. Based on the impact he made during his short tenure, I have no doubt that Saint Mary’s will honor Donnie’s legacy by building on what he started.

In summing up Donnie’s legacy at Saint Mary’s, I want to return to something Tim Copeland, our Chief Quality Officer, shared. At those meetings with new employees, Donnie would always share what he called the “four things” – four traits he wanted to engrain in his hospital. They were:

  • Passion. Be passionate about your job. Because regardless of whether you are serving patients directly or not, your role is of utmost importance to people in times of their greatest need.
  • Pride. Take pride in yourself, pride in your work and pride in being part of the Saint Mary’s team.
  • Compassion. Have compassion for all – patients, families, co-workers – and always serve with a loving spirit.
  • Teamwork. Like with anything else in life, it takes a team to deliver quality care. Always be a positively contributing team member.

I hope we all uphold ourselves to Donnie’s “four things.” Rest in Peace, Donnie. You are truly missed! (Matthew 25:21)

Dad and the “Other Side of the Bed”

Mike’s father Allyn Wiechart loved this photo of the two at a tailgating party prior a University of Kentucky football game.

Mike’s father Allyn Wiechart (left) loved this photo of the two at a tailgating party prior to a Tennessee Titans football game.

June 12, 2014. Last month, in honor of Mother’s Day and National Nurses Week, I shared a story about an early career-defining moment involving my mother, a long-time nurse, and how one particular interaction helped put my job as a healthcare administrator into perspective. This time around, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I would share a much more recent experience with my Dad that has been equally influential in framing my views since I was able to experience healthcare from the “other side of the bed.”

My Dad died a little over three years ago after an extended battle with esophageal and later metastatic brain cancer. We were privileged to be able to care for my Dad during the last six months of his life. He and my step-mother moved into our guest bedroom downstairs and my recently renovated and treasured “man cave” got repurposed into an impromptu medical ward complete with all manner of DME, which included several lifting chairs, wheelchairs, specialty beds and IV feeding poles.

Caring for a loved one in the final days of their battle with a ravaging disease like brain cancer is emotionally draining, mentally fatiguing, at times physically challenging (as in lifting a 280-pound man into bed), and ultimately life-changing.

On a personal level, the first thing that changed for me was my hang-up about modesty. Caring for a family member like this certainly presents challenges to human dignity for both the caregiver and loved one. Simple things like helping them with bathroom duties, such as bathing and catheter maintenance, challenge the limits of personal dignity. I can tell you as much as I didn’t love it, as an intensely private and self-reliant person, Dad absolutely hated it. We didn’t make a lot of eye contact during those early times but that unspoken “awkwardness” that lingered between us finally gave away when one day I fumbled the urine container, making a mess on both of us, and we both started laughing at my incompetence. (For the record, I still don’t think it was THAT funny… but whatever.)

I recall thinking that caregivers do this stuff all the time with arguably much less at stake (i.e. direct care of a loved one), and yet think nothing of it… it’s just part of the job. As a non-clinician, experiencing that reinforced the fact that healthcare is not simply about policies and procedures, technology, and fiscal challenges, but is still all about how we interact with others, demonstrate compassion and help patients maintain dignity.

On a professional level, the experience from the “other side of the bed” was eye-opening – in both good and not-so-good ways. Starting with the not-so-good, I experienced first-hand the inherent flaws of a system built on fee-for-service care and potentially misaligned incentives between providers and patients. One of Dad’s doctors (outside of Nashville) failed us, not because he was a bad physician, but because he was never once willing to be straight up about the prognosis which even I knew was fairly bleak once the cancer had metastasized.

Dad desperately wanted to live and this physician more than obliged Dad’s need for hope by enthusiastically acquiescing to his demands for the “kitchen sink” approach to curing his cancer – as unlikely and unrealistic as that was. I distinctly remember questioning the efficacy of Dad requesting yet another PET/CT scan just two weeks after the last one, and it being ordered without hesitation, even knowing it was not going to show anything different or change treatment recommendations.

As further evidence of a broken system, another family member further rationalized it with the statement that “he paid into Medicare for over 40 years and it’s his right to get the care he wants.” When it comes to end-of-life care, clearly there is a fine line between providing hope and facing reality. Looking back, what we really needed was the doctor to be honest with us – all of us – more than anything.

On the positive side, there were two moments in the journey that reaffirmed my faith in both humanity and healthcare in general. First, I will never forget one physician, a radiation oncologist with Saint Thomas Health who, after my Dad had an extended seizure and ended up in the hospital for four days, was the first person to finally level with Dad and our family about the prognosis. Showing compassion, truthfulness and patience that was surely divine-gifted, with the entire family present, the physician shared the sad news that Dad had four to six months to live. As much as it hurt to hear it, I still cannot thank him enough for caring enough to say it.

The other moment I distinctly recall was when Dad was to undergo a gamma knife procedure at Vanderbilt Cancer Center. Dad had told me going into the procedure that he really wanted me there when he came out of recovery, knowing that his “eggs would be a little scrambled” (Dad’s words, not mine). It was scheduled for the same day as our monthly hospital leadership conference call which, of course, went long. After a stressful thirty-five minute drive from Franklin to the labyrinth known as Vanderbilt Medical Center campus, I was completely beside myself, arriving just 5 minutes before Dad was to leave recovery.

As I finally pulled in exasperated, a young man in valet parking approached my truck, opened my door and said: “Sir, my name is ____. I know you are here to see a loved one and I want to let you know that everything is going to be alright because your family member is getting care in the greatest cancer center in the world with the absolute best doctors and nurses. And don’t you worry about parking as I am going to take care of your truck, so just leave me the keys and I will handle this for you and have it waiting for you when you’re ready.”

I was aware that Vanderbilt was a Studer Group partner, as is Capella, and that this young man had likely been coached (i.e. scripted) in “AIDET.” Knowing it was scripted didn’t matter. What mattered was how and when he said it. He believed every word he said, and as he sensed my anxiety, he knew exactly what I needed. The Studer techniques that this young man had mastered simply refined his already innate capacity for human compassion and care. And, even though I knew exactly what he was doing, it was because of his delivery and attitude that every ounce of tension and panic immediately left me and suddenly it was going to be okay.

Now, as they say, here’s the rest of the story.

That young man who parked my truck that day had an obvious disability, immediately noticeable by his facial features and speech. Yet he was the one person I remember most out of all the medical personnel we encountered along Dad’s journey … not a highly credentialed clinician but someone who considered parking cars his calling and those scripted words his healing instruments. His gift to me that day – one of reassurance and comfort – is one I will never forget.

The perspective I gained from the “other side of the bed” taught me some valuable lessons and significantly impacted my views as a healthcare leader.

First, there are significant opportunities for us to improve how we provide end-of-life care – improvements that can benefit our society as a whole, but more importantly, will better serve patients and their families. As our healthcare system transitions from one based on volume to one based on value, it will help us make these difficult decisions.

Secondly, and more importantly for all healthcare workers, words really do matter. Everyone – regardless of the perceived significance of their role – can provide healing and comfort when it is needed most.

 

P.S.  Dad, Happy Father’s Day! I miss you and I will see you again soon.

Status

Mothers and Nurses: The Noblest of Professions

In addition to celebrating her nomination for “Nurse of the Year” at last week’s luncheon, Sheila Thomison, RN, (center) was also celebrating her 40th year in nursing and her 70th birthday. From left are: Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations; Sue Conley, CEO of DeKalb Community and Stones River hospitals; Sheila Thomison; Beverly Craig; and Michael Wiechart.

May 12, 2014 (Florence Nightingale’s Birthday). Last week I had the privilege of attending The Tennessean’s Nurse of the Year ceremony in Nashville in honor of our own nominees: Beverly Craig, VP- Regulatory Compliance and Clinical Risk Management at Capella, and Sheila Thomison, RN, who works on the geropsychiatric unit at Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, TN (pictured below). I had the opportunity to hear the amazing stories of nurses who – like Beverly and Sheila – have throughout their careers impacted the lives of others in profound ways. Their stories touched me deeply and got me reminiscing about an event in my young professional life that indelibly shaped my thinking about the importance of nurses.

In addition to celebrating her nomination for “Nurse of the Year” at last week’s luncheon, Sheila Thomison, RN, (center) was also celebrating her 40th year in nursing and her 70th birthday. From left are: Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations; Sue Conley, CEO of DeKalb Community and Stones River hospitals; Sheila Thomison; Beverly Craig; and Michael Wiechart.

My mom (Judy Wiechart) is a nurse who is now retired after more than 35 years of caring for others while raising her own. I can still remember her working the 3 – 11 pm shifts and still having supper ready when we got home and breakfast when we woke up before school. The clinical healthcare profession runs deep and wide in my family with one sister who is a BSN and midwife and another who is a dietician. Numerous aunts and uncles on both sides were nurses or nursing assistants. I myself started in Premed with the aspiration of being a doctor, but fortunately for patients everywhere I ran into Chem205 (Organic Chemistry) which served its intended purpose of weeding out the undisciplined and the undeserving.

This leads me to the event.

Unable to be a doctor, purely by chance I ended up in healthcare finance and got my first real job as a staff accountant in a small hospital in North Carolina. It just so happens that that’s where my Mom was working as a unit supervisor on the 5thfloor orthopedic unit. Full of something but knowing nothing, one of my primary responsibilities was to accumulate the daily staffing information (manually back then), develop a summary analysis, and then send stern little “reminders” to directors about the importance of hitting their staffing targets – including my Mom. Imbued with great power and wisdom that one can only get with about six months experience and a 2.3 GPA, I was doing life-changing work that would one day transform healthcare.

Well, let’s just say one day I became a little overly zealous in my work and a good friend of my Mom’s who was the assistant nursing director (let’s call her Nurse G) decided she had had enough of my “help” and came by my office with my Mom. Without saying a word, she reached across my desk and grabbed my tie, yanked me up and out my chair, and then pulled me 100 feet down the hallway to the ER where she ceremoniously led me past the ER nurse’s station and outside under the ambulance portico. Standing outside the ER with my Mom, Nurse G conveyed the following message that I will never forget.

“Mike, nurses work in a very difficult profession that is stressful, tiring, and very unpredictable. And while we can’t predict everything, what I can predict is that sometime over the next 15 minutes, somebody – likely a frantic mother with a sick child in her arms – will come running through these doors crying and the one thing you will never hear her say is ‘help me please, my child is sick, we need to see an accountant!’. You need to understand right now, young man, that those who have their hands on the patients in hospitals are by far the most important staff members. Remember that the next time you send one of your little staffing reminders.”

Given that my Mom was there and probably arranged this life lesson only added to its impact. She just quietly stood there and let it go down without saying a word and without making eye contact. We never talked about it again and she hasn’t mentioned it since. No need to as the message had been forever received.

Nurse G was (and is to this day) right, and I thank her and Mom for caring enough to teach me hard lessons. Clinicians, but especially nurses, are invaluable… theirs are the hands through which we deliver the very care we exist to provide. Taking nothing away from the rest of us who have our roles to play, the truth is that the closer you are to the patient, the more important you are and that will never change.

So, to all the nurses and mothers out there during this month when we celebrate both National Nurses Week and Mother’s Day: Thank you for wiping our tails and our tears. Thank you for your labor in having us and your labor in healing us. But most of all, thank you for not only giving us life and sustaining it, but for teaching us the value of it through your sacrifices.

Mike

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!