Giv­ing em­ploy­ees a voice: It’s the win­ning for­mula for peren­nial hon­oree Woman’s Hos­pi­tal in Louisiana

Open com­mu­ni­ca­tion helps Woman’s Hos­pi­tal thrive in un­cer­tainty

Modern Healthcare - - BEST PLACES TO WORK 2017 - By Rita Pyril­lis

Woman’s Hos­pi­tal in Louisiana has en­dured much in re­cent years, from hur­ri­canes and floods to state bud­get cuts and the con­struc­tion of a $327 mil­lion fa­cil­ity that left some em­ploy­ees wor­ried about its fi­nan­cial fu­ture. But it has man­aged to thrive through un­cer­tainty in large part by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with em­ploy­ees every step of the way.

When the Ba­ton Rouge hos­pi­tal broke ground on its new fa­cil­ity in 2008, some em­ploy­ees thought the move was fi­nan­cially risky and ques­tioned the need for a new build­ing, so hos­pi­tal lead­ers tried to get them ex­cited about the project by mak­ing them part of the process. They con­sulted with staff on the de­sign be­fore the ar­chi­tec­tural plans were drawn, from the size and con­fig­u­ra­tion of pa­tient rooms to the bricks on the façade to the wait­ing room fur­ni­ture.

“We wanted to cre­ate some ex­cite­ment about the new hos­pi­tal be­cause peo­ple were anx­ious about it, so we con­structed sev­eral walls of brick in our plaza and asked em­ploy­ees to pick one,” said Teri Fon­tenot, who has been CEO of Woman’s Hos­pi­tal since 1996. “It was our ‘Pick the Brick’ cam­paign. Each wall was about 20 feet by 40 feet and in a dif­fer­ent color of brick and em­ploy­ees could vote on which brick they liked best.”

When it was time to de­sign pa­tient rooms, hos­pi­tal lead­ers bucked the ar­chi­tects’ rec­om­men­da­tions and lis­tened to the nurses who were asked to de­sign the ideal lay­out. Fur­ni­ture and med­i­cal equip­ment were brought into a con­fer­ence room where nurses could con­struct and de­con­struct a room un­til they hit on a de­sign that max­i­mized work­flow.

“At the time, our fund­ing was un­sta­ble and we were about to go out and is­sue a lot of debt, so em­ploy­ees were wor­ried,” Fon­tenot said. “But if we didn’t move it would have been our even­tual demise. We’d been at our lo­ca­tion since 1968. It was no longer vi­able for us. I think the em­ploy­ees thought, ‘Ev­ery­thing is go­ing fine so why move?’ We wanted to make sure that they un­der­stood the process and why it was nec­es­sary.”

Em­ployee morale took a hit dur­ing plan­ning for the move, ac­cord­ing to en­gage­ment sur­veys, but quickly re­cov­ered once it was com­pleted in 2012, ac­cord­ing to Donna Bodin,

the hos­pi­tal’s hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor. She at­trib­uted the come­back to strong em­ployee com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts.

Woman’s Hos­pi­tal’s fo­cus on build­ing a cul­ture of open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trust is one rea­son that the in­de­pen­dent spe­cialty hos­pi­tal has landed on Mod­ern Health­care’s Best Places to Work in Health­care list every year since the awards pro­gram was launched 10 years ago. It’s the only or­ga­ni­za­tion to earn that dis­tinc­tion.

The hos­pi­tal has also gar­nered na­tional recog­ni­tion for its ob­stet­rics, new­born and women’s can­cer care, both in pa­tient sat­is­fac­tion and health out­comes. In a largely ru­ral state that falls far be­low the na­tional av­er­age in rank­ings of health met­rics, par­tic­u­larly for women, chil­dren and in­fants, the suc­cess of Woman’s Hos­pi­tal gives em­ploy­ees a sense of pride.

“I can’t put into words the pride that I feel in work­ing here,” said Kris­tian Fri­ley, a nurse in the high-risk ma­ter­nity unit. “Women con­fide in us be­cause they trust us, and it feels great to be able to help them at such a happy time in their lives. And the ad­min­is­tra­tion trusts and ap­pre­ci­ates us. Even though I’ve only been here a year, my man­ager asked me to rep­re­sent our unit in our up­com­ing an­nual giv­ing cam­paign. They have faith in their em­ploy­ees whether you’ve been here one year or 20.”

For Lau­ryn Han­ley, a cus­tomer service rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the hos­pi­tal’s fit­ness cen­ter, be­ing asked for her opin­ions makes her feel val­ued.

“The fact that they are al­ways ask­ing us what we think and tak­ing polls and want­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with us makes me feel ap­pre­ci­ated,” she said. “If there’s an is­sue, I feel like I can take it to any­one here no mat­ter what it is. Everyone here is ap­proach­able.”

Fon­tenot’s goal is to cre­ate a work­place where every em­ployee feels em­pow­ered, whether they are a su­per­vi­sor a nurse or a gift shop em­ployee.

“Our mis­sion is clear, but some­times it’s hard to get non­pa­tient em­ploy­ees to un­der­stand how they can have an im­pact on our suc­cess,” she said.

When the hos­pi­tal launched a pa­tient safety aware­ness cam­paign to re­duce sur­gi­cal-site in­fec­tions, Fon­tenot made sure that gift shop work­ers un­der­stood that they could make a great con­tri­bu­tion by keep­ing the an­ti­sep­tic cleanser in stock for pa­tients to use be­fore surgery.

“My job is not su­per­vi­sion,” she added. “It’s re­mov­ing ob­sta­cles and pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ees with the re­sources to do the best job for our pa­tients. I don’t feel like any­body works for me. I feel like I work for them.”

Woman’s Hos­pi­tal cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary next year, but Fon­tenot said em­ploy­ees today are hand­picked in the same way the founders built a staff.

“They knew who they wanted and who could con­tinue their vi­sion for the fu­ture,” she said. “When we hire, we hire for a can­di­date’s at­ti­tude and how they fit into our cul­ture. Woman’s Hos­pi­tal is based on treat­ing the in­di­vid­ual woman. That’s why the founders named it ‘woman’s’ in the sin­gu­lar and not women’s. It’s about tak­ing into ac­count the needs of the in­di­vid­ual per­son. We will con­tinue that tra­di­tion.”

Han­ley, who is 60, grew up in Ba­ton Rouge and has watched Woman’s grow from a small com­mu­nity owned hos­pi­tal founded by a group of 21 OB-GYNs to the na­tion­ally rec­og­nized in­sti­tu­tion that it is today.

“Woman’s Hos­pi­tal is very much a part of Ba­ton Rouge and we’re for­tu­nate that they are part of our com­mu­nity,” she said. “It’s been a de­light to watch it evolve and be­come such a pos­i­tive force in our com­mu­nity.”

“My job is not su­per­vi­sion. It’s re­mov­ing ob­sta­cles and pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ees with the re­sources to do the best job for our pa­tients. I don’t feel like any­body works for me. I feel like I work for them.” Teri Fon­tenot Pres­i­dent and CEO Woman’s Hos­pi­tal

By seek­ing in­put from staff at all lev­els of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Woman’s Hos­pi­tal has built a strong cul­ture of com­mu­nity and mis­sion.

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