Chuck Lauer: 10 Ways to Cope in This Anxious Time of Healthcare Reform

1. Hold meetings with staff. Hold a series of meetings with all your personnel — nurses, physicians, housekeeping and others — to talk about the implications of the healthcare reform act. There's a lot of confusion in all quarters about reform. Discuss how it could affect them both personally and professionally. Most hospital personnel I've talked to don't have a clue about what issues and problems their C-suite executives are dealing with. Enlighten them on what's at the top of your mind so they won't be surprised when changes come.

2. Walk around your institution. Now is the time for all C-suite executives to pay a visit to various departments and talk with all levels of personnel. Ask board members to walk around, too. Then they'll be able to understand exactly what you have been talking about in your discussions with them. Some board members will probably not have the least bit of interest in doing this because of their schedules but others will respond enthusiastically. It may be a risky move but in the end it will be helpful when you have to go to the board and ask for support and funding of various projects.

3. Become a new person.
CEOs tend to have so many administrative problems confronting them that they forget the real business of a hospital. Sometimes, in both large and small institutions I have visited, the personnel don't have a clue who the CEO is. That should never be the case, no matter what size your institution is. Start turning to your C-suite team to handle pressing problems while you become more visible – not only to your people but the patients who have chosen your institution for care. In short, get out of your office and spend more time on the firing line.

4. Reach out to physicians. Some physicians are frustrated and angry. They may have returned to the hospital as employees after trying to run a surgery center or participating in a group practice. They think they know what's going on, but from my experience they really don't know what the hospital is all about and they don’t know what is in store for them as employees. They think the hospital is a fat cat, making money hand over fist and not sharing it with them. The more you enlighten them about what is going on, the better it will be for you and your board.

5. Speak to the community. Now is the time for you to get more involved in the community. Offer to be a speaker at various meetings and conferences. Talk about your institution and what is happening inside it. Most laymen don't have a clue about what is going on there, so it's important for you to enlighten them. Talk about the things that affect you: healthcare reform, he difficulty of attracting new physicians and about anything else you feel is appropriate. Give them a dose of reality and they will respect you for it. They are as confused as everyone else is and they need your leadership.

6. Groom your own leaders. There is a critical shortage of real leaders in all industries. Leaders who are willing to take risks, leaders who enjoy their roles, leaders who can make sound and well balanced decisions. Mentoring is a sorely needed resource. A major vacuum will develop in your institution without it. It's hard to take the time to mentor others these days but someone took the time to mentor you, didn't they? Develop your own leaders in your own organization so that when the time comes for you to retire, you can leave it in the hands of people you developed into true and responsible leaders.

7. Showcase heroes who can inspire. Every day in a hospital, there are people who do extraordinary things that need to be recognized for their performance. Every week, make sure not one or two individuals — maybe even three or four — are recognized for their contributions to the excellence of the institution. Their deeds and actions will serve as inspiration to others, which will have a sizeable impact on morale. It also shows that those in management positions really do care and can recognize exceptional work.

8. Rework your mission statement. Your mission statement should be up-to-date to reflect the current state of the healthcare industry. View it as an evolving document. Hanging it on the wall in the lobby doesn't really inspire anyone. Take it down every so often and rethink it, with the help of your staff. They are the ones who live the mission every day.

9. Greet arriving patients. Have you ever gone to the ED to observe how patients are treated when they first enter? I bet not, but that's only a guess. How about sitting at the information desk when people arrive and need directions to whatever department they need to go to. Do you give them eye contact and maybe even lead them where they need to go? People entering a hospital are confused and intimidated. How do personnel at the information desk handle people who are our customers?

10. Say thank you! When people are discharged from your hospital, do you ever take the time to thank them for coming? The next contact they get after discharge is usually a paper questionnaire asking them about their stay. Why not talk to them before discharge? Then they can give you their true feelings about their stay and you can get a better fix on the way they were treated as customers in your hospital. Stop asking patients to fill out forms and start talking to them — either on the phone or, better yet, in person.

Chuck Lauer ( chuckspeaking@aol.com ) was publisher of Modern Healthcare for more than 25 years. He is now an author, public speaker and career coach who is in demand for his motivational messages to top companies nationwide.

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