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Published in CenterView on February 27, 2012
Dr. James Keeton visits with La'Rhonda Cheeks, center, patients services scheduler, and Lynn Lee, researcher.
Dr. James Keeton visits with La'Rhonda Cheeks, center, patients services scheduler, and Lynn Lee, researcher.

New initiative gives UHHS leaders face time with hospital staff

By Bruce Coleman

Carmen Sandiego popularized the concept. Matt Lauer perpetuated it. Now the University Hospitals and Health System leadership team is participating as well.

Like the best-selling educational computer game franchise and the national infotainment show host, UHHS leaders are liable to pop up just about anywhere. But the "Where in the U is . . .?" project is more than an effort to make leadership more recognizable in the workplace; it's an opportunity for leaders to encourage staff, discuss departmental goals and recognize significant achievements.

"Communication and visibility are paramount for leaders all of the time, but especially when times are tough," said Janet Harris, interim CEO of UHHS who introduced the idea to senior leaders. "Staff need to know that leaders understand what they do and value their work.

"This effort is just one specific and conscious way to assure that we do that."

The program requires each UHHS senior leadership team member to spend an hour or so in the primary work environment of a selected employee to learn about his or her role and responsibilities. Employees in all UHHS departments and units are considered; names are drawn from a hat during the monthly UHHS leadership meeting.

Tonya Moore, chief learning officer for University of Mississippi Health Care, said the program reflects Harris' natural personality.

"Janet is a very visible leader and enjoys spending time with nurses," she said. "Janet wanted to take this visibility a step further and include senior leaders as well as all employees. Without hesitation, the senior leadership team embraced this very important initiative."

Harris helped jump-start the initiative last month by "job-shadowing" Otis Williams, a radiation therapist in radiation oncology.

"I learned about the meticulous care and details that must be attended to in radiation oncology," Harris said of her visit. "The thing that impressed me the most was the pride and enthusiasm that the staff in this area have for their work.

"Their incredible precision in their work is yielding higher quality of care for our patients every day."

Harris wasn't the only one who came away from the experience with a positive impression.

"She (Harris) showed a willingness to try and understand the technical nature of our job along with the complexity of coordinating schedules," Williams said. "Not only is our job technical . . . but there is a compassionate role we have as we share this journey with so many of our patients whose lives and the lives of their families have been touched by cancer. We were so pleased to be able to share this with Mrs. Harris."

Dodie McElmurray, administrator of clinical support services, followed Diane Dowell, a nurse in labor and delivery. They took part in discussions of administrative decisions during the visit in February.

"What impressed me the most was that Dodie was very much at ease with everyone on labor and delivery, as if she was a part of our unit," Dowell said. "The visit allowed us to see the caring side of hospital administration and (for) them to see a great group of nurses who love their job and take pride in their unit."

McElmurray said it was "amazing" to see what the labor and delivery nurses do for patients every day.

"I had not previously had much experience with labor and delivery, so I was very excited to learn more about this unit," she said. "If we, as leaders, do not have a good idea of what the staff do every day, it makes it very difficult to support them. Being visible also lets the staff know that support is available for them and what they are doing, and it's also a way to let them know how important they are to the institution."

Moore said as the initiative continues, the "Where in the U is . . .?" project should significantly enhance communication between UHHS leaders and staff.

"The senior leadership team recognizes that staff have a tremendous desire to want to know who our senior leaders are and to be able to communicate with them," Moore said. "Along those same lines, the senior leadership team has a tremendous desire to stay connected with staff. The increased visibility will aid this process."

Lunch with the VC

Members of the UHHS leadership team aren't the only ones seeking greater interaction with staff.

Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs, has launched a lunchtime initiative that will help him and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, associate vice chancellor for health affairs, connect with University of Mississippi Medical Center employees.

Once a month, Keeton and Woodward will host a "Vice Chancellor's Luncheon" for eight randomly selected employees to share insights and receive encouragement from their institutional leader.

"Dr. Keeton thought of the luncheon as a way to become more familiar with members of the Medical Center family, respond to any questions and talk about what is going on at the institution," said Brian Rutledge of the vice chancellor's office. "Having a regular, dedicated time for the vice chancellor to spend with staff from all parts of the Medical Center facilitates communication and keeps employees engaged and involved with the leadership of the Medical Center."