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Take care of you: 5 Takeaways from Leadership Assembly

Feb. 18, 2021, 11:30 AM

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, talks about the many challenges VUMC has faced during the past year at this week’s Leadership assembly. (photo by Donn Jones)
Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, talks about the many challenges VUMC has faced during the past year at this week’s Leadership Assembly. (photo by Donn Jones)

by Holly Fletcher

In the 351 days since the COVID-19 Command Center opened to steer Vanderbilt University Medical Center through the pandemic, the workforce stepped up and contributed, keeping the health system on track to deliver care even as the landscape quaked with new challenges.

The resilience and dedication of the staff buttresses VUMC’s successes in changing how patients receive care and implementing new processes to keep colleagues safe, Medical Center leaders said during streaming for the February 2021 Leadership Assembly. Yet, reserves of resilience are finite and the emerging variants of COVID-19 make it clear the pandemic isn’t over, said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“The people of VUMC have been living it day in and day out for over a year and that is causing wear and tear on our emotional fabric,” said Balser. “The bottom line is, as we all work to make health care personal for our patients, I want you to know that our vision includes you — all 30,000 people at VUMC and your families.”

Balser and C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer, emphasized the need to tend to the personal, physical and mental needs of individuals and teams at the first Leadership Assembly since Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital and Vanderbilt Tullahoma-Harton Hospital joined the health system on Jan. 1.

“We’ve all met this challenge in a way that we can be proud. We all want to know that we belong and that we play a part; and I’m telling each and every one listening, you absolutely do — and you sure have this past year,” said Pinson. “Working together you’ve gone the extra mile the past 351 days to keep our health system functioning admirably.”

(To watch a video of the Leadership Assembly please visit the Elevate website at this link: )


A year with no comparison

Over the last 12 months, the community of VUMC confronted a tornado, historic racial issues and political tensions, and a Christmas Day bombing that upended telecommunications for the health system and the region — all against the backdrop of the pandemic, said Pinson.

“We grieved alone and together, but we have also seen true heroism and now we’re seeing hope, so we do rejoice together too,” Pinson said.

Successes, ranging from telehealth implementation and the discovery of monoclonal antibodies, to providing a safe and kind environment for patients, are emblematic of the commitment and fortitude of VUMC employees and their families, said Balser.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, discusses operational performance and additions to the Vanderbilt Health system. (photo by Donn Jones)
C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, discusses operational performance and additions to the Vanderbilt Health system. (photo by Donn Jones)

“The foundation of VUMC is you, so to be resilient and to withstand what remains of this pandemic and whatever comes next we need to take the time to lift up each other,” said Balser. “I’m working in a Medical Center full of heroes. Thank you for always being there when people need you the most.”

Keeping you healthy

Several programs are in place to ease barriers to care, such as scheduling, for staff and their families.

The vision is to find ways to “turn ‘making health care personal’ inward and focus on you,” said Balser.

A growing number of employees are being seen at clinics, and more than 50 appointments a week are being scheduled using a hotline for VUMC staff and family members. Staff is encouraged to call 855-724-2454 to set up appointments. The goal is to make appointments within one week, and the initiative is getting positive feedback, said Balser.

Employees can also take advantage of a telehealth clinic available seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the My Health at Vanderbilt portal.

Telehealth counseling through Work Life Connections-EAP is now an option, and staff are choosing the virtual option 95% of the time. Counseling from EAP is available one-on-one and for teams. These appointments can be scheduled by calling 615-936-1327.

Through Health Plus programming, there are a variety of offerings to improve mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, parenting tips and coping with pandemic fatigue.

“We all bring our life circumstances with us to work every day, so at a time like this it’s more important than ever to take care of psychological needs as well as our physical health care needs,” Balser said.


Jab back at COVID

A majority of VUMC’s workforce has been vaccinated against COVID-19, Pinson said. Efforts have shifted to vaccinating patients who qualify under Tennessee Department of Health guidelines. Starting Monday, this includes people age 65 and older, along with pre-K-12 teachers and staff who are included in category 1b of the state’s plan.

Medical Center leadership stressed that the strong interest this early in the roll out of vaccines is encouraging, yet the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 is a looming threat.

“By creating herd immunity here at VUMC we make it safe for those who may not respond as well to the vaccine: our very own co-workers who may be on chemotherapy or immune suppressants as well as our families at home,” said Balser. “We need that number to be as close to 100% as possible.”

The Medical Center established a digital library about the vaccine’s importance and the mechanism by which it arms the body to protect against the virus as well as how it fits into the overarching public health strategy, which includes masks, distancing and hand hygiene, against COVID-19.

The Vaccine 101 video featuring world renowned vaccine expert William Schaffner, MD, professor of Preventive Medicine and Health Policy, now has more than 200,000 combined views on YouTube and other platforms, Balser noted, thanking people for taking the time to spread the word about the safety and importance of the vaccines.

“We are a proven, resilient organization and team. COVID-19 has been unrelenting. While we are seeing a decrease in cases currently, we are aware virus variants could send us in the other direction. We need as many vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Pinson.

Gathering strength amid a raging storm

Many Americans put off routine and diagnostic care during the pandemic out of fear of COVID-19, and VUMC is seeing more people present with urgent illnesses that could have been treated earlier, said Balser.

Vanderbilt Health expanded throughout the region in the last year. Locations for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are now in 20 communities, and the addition of the Tullahoma and Shelbyville hospitals and the partnership with Community Health Systems in Clarksville expanded the health system’s capacity by more than 465 beds.

The regional growth will power a “Hospital at Home” project, which is borne from the COVID-19 program that has treated 425 patients in their homes since March, said Pinson. The new program will send nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians to provide hospital level in-patient care in people’s homes.

Specialties including urology, infusion therapy, orthopaedics and occupational therapy are being spread out in communities ranging from Cool Springs, Green Hills and Bellevue in clinic expansions. The new Executive Wellness clinic is opening in Green Hills.

The Medical Center is performing well against its measurable metrics at this point in the fiscal year, particularly on employee retention and patient feedback regarding scheduling and use of its virtual portal (My Health at Vanderbilt), said Pinson.

“I want to thank you for your attention and consistency in making sure each of our patients has a positive experience every time,” Pinson said.

Teams need to stay focused on reducing falls, infections and pressure injuries as COVID-19 impacts the acuity of admitted patients.

Looking forward, Pinson wants leaders to emphasize communication with their teams about job roles and be available for coaching as well as encouraging taking the new training segment, “We Commit to Be Curious, Inclusive, Respectful.”


Keep a grip on what’s new

Staying in touch with employees as the health system expands across the region and a segment of staff working from home is central to the vision of the institution, Balser said.

Changes to the internal news app vumc2go make it easier to download and offers new opportunities to connect with colleagues. The app is now available in the Apple and Google app stores without installing additional security measures.

The app now has a vaccine scheduler that handily reminds staff of their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

In addition to a frequently updated news feed with the ability to bookmark items, vumc2go features an events calendar listing a variety of virtual meet-ups, lectures and opportunities to connect with colleagues.

Balser recommends checking it once a day to make sure important or interesting activities and news is not flying under the radar.

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