'We've got a lot of good retention': Keck Medicine of USC leaders discuss leadership programs, strategies

As many hospitals and health systems continue battling staffing shortages, high turnover rates and burnout, Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC is tackling these issues head-on.

"It is working with our faculty. It's working with our front-line. It's being a facilitative leading group, listening to our people in a way and making sure that we're able to do things that are satisfying some of the challenges that come with healthcare," Rod Hanners, CEO of Keck Medicine of USC, told Becker's.

An academic medical center, Keck Medicine of USC comprises Los Angeles-based Keck Hospital of USC; Los Angeles-based USC Norris Cancer Hospital; Los Angeles-based USC Verdugo Hills Hospital; Los Angeles-based USC Arcadia Hospital; and over 100 clinics across Los Angeles, Orange, Kern, Tulare and Ventura counties in California.

Its Los Angeles-based Keck Medical Center of USC is made up of Keck Hospital, the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, and the multiple clinics, according to its LinkedIn

As the pandemic wound down, Marty Sargeant, CEO of Keck Medical Center of USC, told Becker's it was all eyes forward to ensure a strengthened middle management team.

With a focus on authentic leadership, the medical center's leadership team utilized tools from author Brené Brown's book "Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Heart."

"We, at the leadership team level, went through the full certification course so that we could understand exactly what we were getting ready to formulate for our teams. What we needed to do as leaders, leaders to leaders, is have these candid discussions," Mr. Sargeant said. "The 'Dare to Lead' work sets itself up that you have seven to nine, 90-minute sessions with your team and you work through these leadership principles as Brené Brown outlines in her book."

With 250 managers already going through the process and 200 more wrapping up their sessions, the medical center is seeing significant improvements. 

"Out of the last 10 pay periods, we had eight pay periods without a contract worker in the hospital and our census has been high," Mr. Sargeant said. "Our overall turnover rate as a medical center is 10%, which is one of the best performing measures. Nursing turnover is 7.2%, which is the best I've seen out there in quite some time, particularly for an academic medical center."

Mr. Sargeant said his managerial turnover has also improved, going from 14% down to 7.7%. 

Along with Keck Medical Center improvements, Keck Medicine is working overall to model positive attitudes and energy, with a high-trust environment also key among leaders and employees to ensure credibility and integrity. 

"I can say without any hesitation, my leaders are all wired that way. It's important because if they aren't, they wouldn't fit and then they move on. We've got a lot of good retention of our leaders, and they've all subscribed to it. So it starts there, with leadership," Mr. Hanners said. 

Keck Medicine of USC also found success after implementing its Keck operating system, which brings leaders together through a daily tiered huddle process where problems are surfaced, discussed and solved.

"We're having great turnaround with solving the problems that the front-line brings to us each and every day," Mr. Hanners said. "It has been a good mechanism for communication and resolving problems fast. That then says, 'Hey, they care. I raised an issue and somebody actually solved it for me and I'm not getting frustrated raising it every day.'"

Another tool Mr. Hanners pointed to utilizing is Keck's professionalism program, which was introduced through Keck Medicine employing the Vanderbilt Health Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy, an organization that partners with over 200 health systems, hospitals and practices by using data and analytics from co-worker and patient professionalism concerns. 

Through holding "coffee conversations," peer coaches connect with providers and nurses to address any behavioral mishaps or concerns.

"Ninety-eight percent of all these providers self correct and never have another problem. It's a good program. It's got a lot of science behind it," Mr. Hanners said. 

With investments in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Keck Medicine also has nine employee resource groups, with eight kicked off in just the last few years.

"They do a lot of work in terms of how we are diverse in our care and understanding the unique attributes of each of those populations," Mr. Hanners said. 

Other incentives for employee well-being include offering Keck Medicine's entire workforce the Calm app, a mental health app, along with five family members of their choosing. It has also farmed out around $1.4 million from a grant proposal to staff through a caregiver emergency fund and has implemented meeting-free Fridays so workers have time to get their work done to allow for weekend family time. 

"If we can meet the needs of our employees, we believe they can show up for us and be great for our patients," he said.

Like what you see? All executives featured in this article will speak at the Becker's Academic Medical Center Leadership forum April 8-9 in Chicago. Hospital and health system leaders, click here to apply for a complimentary badge. Interested in exhibitor or sponsorship opportunities to connect with 3,000+ hospital and health system leaders? Download the prospectus here. Thank you to our sponsor ECG Management.

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