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Susquehanna Life

Workplace Issues: Patient-Focused Care, Employee-Centered Space

Jun 03, 2016 06:26PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

Kendra Aucker first planted roots at Evangelical Community Hospital in the 1990s. When she was promoted to president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital in July 2015, Aucker brought with her a connection to community, and a renewed focus on patients and staff.  

By Erica L. Shames

Susquehanna Life Magazine: How did you begin to formulate a strategy when you stepped into the role of president and CEO?

KA: My first day on the job, I received the results of an employee engagement survey. I wasn’t thrilled with some of the employee perceptions of how we treat each other; some felt they were bullied. My goal was to start conversations. If a co-worker is bothering you, sit down and talk about it, I urged.

SLM: What else needed attention?

KA: I spend a lot of time with physicians and management staff and found myself getting further and further away from employees and the day-to-day. That led me to invite employees to meet with me for a cup of coffee.

SLM: What happened as a result?

KA: I have, at this point, done nearly 110 of what marketing has termed Coffee with Kendra. It’s been by far one of the best things I’ve ever done. I ask people, When we’re at our best, what are we doing? What can we do better? What keeps you here? You really learn some very interesting things from people, and employees can ask me whatever questions they want.

SLM: How have you used this data?

KA: I used the information from the first 20 meetings to develop a mandatory training program for all employees. We’re touching on everything from through-put—how we move patients through the building—to generational differences in the workforce and where they reveal themselves. It’s allowed us to tailor our management trainings differently.

SLM: What about your background prepared you for this job?

KA: I started my career here in marketing communications and public relations. All these years later I’m on the far side of it, and yet it all comes back to communication: how you write, how you speak, how you present yourself and how you deliver your message.

SLM: How have you used communication skills to do your job better?

KA: My focus has been on employees: getting them re-energized and re-engaged; understanding what I think the organization is about; and identifying our strengths and how we can harness them. We will never be any better to our patients than we are to each other. If we are kind to one another, if we are respectful, if we can have crucial conversations with each other, that’s going to translate to positive patient care.   

SLM: How else can employees play a role?

KA: We talk to employees about things like ‘three feet and greet.’ When you come within three feel of someone, you greet them—whether it’s your co-workers or the public. You take for granted, when you work here, that it’s not a scary place. For many people, there’s some apprehension. 

SLM: What other ideas have you implemented?

KA: I’m a non-clinician in this role, so I’ve taken on patient rounds. I spend two hours a week talking to patients—asking them how their stay was, how we communicated with them, if their pain was managed appropriately – the kind of things that impact our satisfaction scores, but also you get a real sense of why people choose to come to Evan.

SLM: Given the things that can happen at a hospital, do you offer employees emotional support?

KA: Healthcare is a crazy environment. People are sicker and rules are crazier. We have our own internal wellness program. You may know what your health metrics are, but how do you get your stress under control? How do you find work/life balance? It’s the nature of caregivers to be committed to their patients, and that can be exhausting.

SLM: How is that program implemented?

KA: We’ve begun to do some mindfulness training for employees and I see that as an area of great opportunity. An Evan Cares program has been established, led by staff psychologist Dr. Michael Hayes, offering ways to help employees through difficult patient care issues. 

SLM: How important is the word community in the hospital’s name?

KA: We’re blessed to have huge community support. And we’re committed to caring for this community. Whenever we have a capital campaign project to enhance the facility, the community always steps up.

SLM: How would you characterize where Evan was when you stepped into your role as CEO, and where it’s headed:

KA: Healthcare is changing dramatically. Consumers are much more savvy; they shop for healthcare the way they do retail purchases. People have to understand what they pay out-of-pocket for healthcare. Reviews of physicians and hospital-acquired infection rates are on the Internet, so you have to be very proactive in managing those types of things. Our goal, and it’s always been the goal of this board, is to keep us a strong and independent hospital to serve our community.

SLM: How do you accomplish that in an era of mergers and acquisitions?

KA: It’s working with the medical staff to continue to identify and talk through strategies. We can’t be all things to all people. What do we do well? Where are the opportunities? We’re not straying too far from what our goals always were: to be the affordable, accessible institution in this region that provides care to everyone, and to improve the health of the community and the populations we serve. I don’t see that changing. While we do not intend to merge with anyone, we certainly intend, where it makes sense, to partner with other providers to provide our patients the best care possible.

SLM: Have your strong roots here helped in your new position?

KA: My parents moved to the Selinsgrove area when I was two years old. I went off to college, and never intended to come back. I came back and ended up raising my family here. When I took this job, I was inundated with notes from neighbors I grew up with 40 years ago; those are things you don’t get when you’re not from an area. When you can look backward and see where you’ve been, and where you’ve come, it establishes a context for the future. That’s what I feel I bring to the table. I understand the people of the region; it’s a tight-knit community, and connections to it are deep and long.

SLM: What is the legacy you would like to leave behind?

KA: I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to continue to drive this institution forward. Someday I’m not going to be here, and I need to know it’s being turned over to people who are going to keep it the gem for the community that it is. If I can walk away from here someday and say I did my part to keep this entity going, I’ll be satisfied.

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