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Susquehanna Life

More With Kendra Aucker, President and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital

Jun 07, 2016 02:04AM ● By Melanie Heisinger

A continuation of the interview with Kendra Aucker, president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital, from our Workplace Issues: Patient-Focused Care, Employee-Centered Space article. 

SLM: It’s unusual for a CEO to make patient rounds. Have you had any experiences that touched you?

Kendra Aucker

 KA: I was rounding one day with Nicki Weber, the director of patient experience here, in the cath lab. We went in the cath lab that day and met three women. All three were alone. I opened up the curtain, introduced myself and told each I was out rounding. One woman told me she had been a former employee and had retired from here. She told me a joke about men – and how they’re like parking lots spaces: the good ones are taken and all the rest are handicapped. And she had a joke about Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer, and it was just very touching. She was disappointed she was not going to be able to come back for the holiday dinner the hospital hosts because she was going to be admitted to have open heart surgery. So Nicki Weber gave her a business card and said, When you go into cardiac rehab call me and I’ll get you lunch with Kendra. She said, You’d have lunch with me? And I teased her and said, Oh my gosh! My joke repertoire would increase ten-fold! When we went to leave, she grabbed my hand and said she had been given very bad news, and her heart was really bad. She said she had been praying about what to do next, and how was she going to get through these next couple of hours to get transferred out—and then I had appeared.  

For me, a couple of things happened that day: One was the realization of how many people are totally alone, and they come in here every day and we just don’t think about it. Rounding has also exposed to me how many people have transportation difficulties, and that’s a regional issue, but people struggle getting rides to and from the hospital.

SLM: Did you get to have lunch with the woman?

KA: The next day comes, and I went to a meeting at Geisinger, thinking a lot about this woman. You have to be so careful about confidentiality, but I texted the cardiologist here and said I had met this woman, and we had had a very open exchange and I knew what she was having done; I just wondered if she survived the surgery. It turned out the surgery had been delayed a day. So I called the hospital where she was, Susquehanna Health System, and I asked the main switchboard to connect me. She and I had this lovely conversation. I told her I had been compelled to call her, picturing her sitting there by herself, and I wanted to make sure she had her head on straight about her surgery; she was in good spirits. She told me another joke about Willie Nelson being on the road again.

So the time passes, and I don’t hear anything. It was the Friday before Christmas and then Saturday, and both my children had arrived home. I got the Saturday morning newspaper and saw that she had passed away. And it just affected me. I called Nicki Weber and, while I was off that week, I felt compelled to pay my respects. So she and I drove to this beautiful little church, out in the middle of nowhere. On the table, in the receiving line, were these giant scrap books. It turned out her hobby was collecting jokes and positive stories. I could hear her, in my head, telling some of these jokes. I went through the receiving line and met her two nephews she had been very close to throughout her life. The first nephew shared how much she had enjoyed working at Evan. When I met the second nephew, he got very emotional. He told me how touched she had been by my conversation with her, and how much she had been looking forward to having lunch with me. I told him he had no idea what she did for me.

I keep her obituary in my desk drawer to remind me that everything we do here is about the patient. And if you focus on the patient, everything else falls into place. We wouldn’t be here – our doors would not be open – if it weren’t for the people we have the privilege of caring for. That’s what that moment reminded me.

While I never saw myself as being able to be a nurse—academically I could have done it but I was always concerned about how I would interact—now, on Tuesday when I round with Nicki, I bound out of bed, looking forward to what’s going to happen. And people appreciate it. You get a real sense for what social issues exist—and other things people are challenged by—and how do we do right by our patients.

SLM: What advances have come out of these realizations?

KA: We now have some transportation policies for patients – things we can do to help people. The way we help people move about the building – giving employees permission in different ways to help patients. We’re just trying to be responsive to the needs of people we care for. And now the rest of the executive team is rounding. Each member of my team – once a month – gets exposed to meeting with patients. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the IT person or the financial person or the HR person – we’re here to take care of people. You learn a lot about the world, from rounding, and you also get to recognize employees for their good work. You hear what a patient says about a person and you can immediately relay that to them. I feel good about how we’re addressing the needs of patients and employees.

Read more about Kendra Aucker in our article Workplace Issues: Patient-Focused Care, Employee-Centered Space.

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