February 18, 2016

Compassion key to VUMC’s strategic mission: Balser

“Service through compassion” was the theme of the Winter 2016 Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., discusses VUMC’s role in improving health care in the Southeast at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly. (photo by Joe Howell)

“Service through compassion” was the theme of the Winter 2016 Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

More than 800 staff and faculty leaders attended the quarterly assembly at Langford Auditorium.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, began by reading a recent email expressing a family’s gratitude for care a loved one had received at Vanderbilt University Hospital. “I can’t say enough about the professionalism and care my aunt received from the nurses, staff and doctors,” the message read.

From this heartfelt story from a grateful family, Balser pivoted to a discussion of what service through compassion means in the context of VUMC’s strategic vision.

He said VUMC is in the midst of adapting and rescaling its services to address the needs of patients, communities and providers across the Southeast, a region where life expectancy is low compared to the rest of the developed world, and where rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer are relatively high.

“Improving care for the region is an expression of compassion, I believe,” he said. Initiatives taking shape at VUMC will enable the care of an additional 1 million lives by 2020, he added.

Balser said that overeating, drinking too much alcohol and smoking also affect the health of the population in the Southeast. “As a health care system, addressing these issues means meeting people where they are — when they’re not patients yet. Meeting them as people in their daily walk — that’s an even higher form of compassion,” Balser said.

He devoted the balance of his talk to initiatives involving organizational restructuring, growth of the VUMC health care system, seamless care, and broad-based leadership empowerment.

“The restructuring is going fine,” he said, referring to the transaction that will soon establish VUMC as a separate legal and financial entity from Vanderbilt University. As announced last month, the transaction, which was initially scheduled to conclude in February, will conclude sometime in the second quarter of this year. Balser stressed that there was no single reason for the brief delay.

“Has anyone here ever closed on a house? Has that ever been delayed? Now picture the house being the size of an aircraft carrier — that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, also began his portion of the Leadership Assembly by reading a heartfelt letter of thanks, this one from a VUMC employee who received care at the Medical Center.

“Let’s be role models to others by treating each other and our patients as we would want to be treated, and how we want our family to be treated,” he said.

In elaborating the day’s theme, Pinson highlighted two initiatives concerning quality and service excellence: nurse leader rounding and discharge phone calls.

“Part of serving with compassion is doing the seemingly small things that help us provide safe and quality care for patients,” he said.

The practice of nurse leader rounding has expanded to 28 units of VUH, and “is giving our patients a voice, letting us respond quickly to their needs,” Pinson said. The initiative has brought a dramatic improvement in patient satisfaction scores.

Discharge phone calls “are an important touch point after a hospital stay, ensuring that patients are progressing and are clear about their medications and their discharge plans,” Pinson said.

This initiative, which is expected to help more patients avoid unplanned readmission, has also had a dramatic positive effect on patient satisfaction scores.

Pinson also focused on improvements concerning employee engagement and retention, hospital length of stay, surgical volume and documentation and coding. He reported that, as of the quarter that concluded in December, VUMC has met 14 of its 22 strategic goals for this fiscal year.

Performance toward goals in quality, innovation and goals in growth and finance has been especially successful; much progress also has been made this year regarding service and employee engagement and retention, but opportunities for improvements remain in those areas, he said.

Pinson updated those attending on multiple recent successful commercial contract negotiations, multiple new expansion clinics in the Vanderbilt Health system, several new leader appointments in VUMC, and the positive progress on four main focus initiatives this year—People, Decreasing our Length of Stay, increasing the Procedure Pipeline and improving documentation and coding excellence.

Those in attendance were also treated to a performance of “Change the World” by Grammy-winning songwriter and music industry veteran Gordon Kennedy. Before performing, Kennedy spoke of his own personal connection to VUMC when his son was treated here as a toddler.

Wrapping up the meeting was keynote speaker, Christina Dempsey, R.N., MBA, MSN, chief nursing officer at Press Ganey Associates, Inc., who spoke on the theme of “compassionate connected care.” Dempsey used personal anecdotes to describe how patients perceive the hospital environment and offered techniques for everyone at VUMC to engage with patients at a personal level. Following the day’s theme of “service through compassion” Dempsey explained how simple yet meaningful interactions of engagement can positively impact patients’ overall perception of their experience.

Press Ganey is a health care consultancy service based in South Bend, Indiana, and is now partnered with VUMC to conduct its patient satisfaction surveys.