I’m sick and tired – but far from done!

I am an optimistic person that believes that there are plethora hospital leaders doing the very difficult work of changing healthcare to make their cultures more effective, healthy, transparent, more reliable and less variable. I witness examples of these heroes every single day.

So before I take a little time to rant, let me explain… I work with healthcare leaders that are committed to learning from the past to improve the future, with data as their driver and compass. It is not easy work, per se (let’s be clear, it’s also not the front line care of patients), but it is work that I absolutely love! My reality is that what I do for work is a calling; and so my personal opinions are inherently woven into the work I do, I cannot unravel them.

I tell you this part as explanation, and part introduction; please know that I will never reveal the names of those I reference and would ask that your assumptions be kept to yourself. Needless to say, I think you’d be surprised…

I am sick and tired of the fact that I see many leaders in health care not being honest with themselves.

Unprofessional behavior is tolerated, expectations remain unclear, variation in practice is permitted, and human error is being allowed to harm patients; all the while telling people that they are the greatest, safest, most efficient healthcare system(s) in the world.

Why this lack of honesty? Is it that we’re afraid, or is it that we don’t know?

Do we not know the answers to safer more reliable, transparent, less costly care?

If we don’t know, are we embarrassed to admit that we lack the knowledge?

Are we afraid that if we stop supporting and promulgating the structures, systems, processes, excuses, and people that result in our current dangerous reality, that this will be an admission of past guilt? Are we afraid of the difficult conversations and actions that will be needed to lead a different organization?

I think it’s a combination of embarrassment, fear and a multitude of other deeply held attributes that many smart, well educated professionals have a difficult time “owning” and acting upon.

Let me be clear, I don’t think this is a knowledge gap. Other industries are way out in front of us with their use of technology, their speed to change long held approaches that no longer work, and their desire and ability to learn from others. Many hospitals have taken the lead and are modeling that you can hire for ‘fit’, support daily safety huddles and commit to a goal of “zero preventable harm”, just as a start.

I think we’re afraid of the reality that if we fess up to the fact that we have tolerated bad behavior, poor performance and mediocrity for so very long; that we will have to be vulnerable, naked, open to criticism, and honest with ourselves that yesterday we tolerated and did things that are no longer OK today…

So I have a challenge for myself and fellow healthcare leaders:

Own it.

Start taking personal accountability for who and what your hospitals are. The good (great), the bad, and, the ugly. You are culture!

Own up to the fact that you know who your poor performers are…

Own up to the fact that you may not have articulated your expectations clearly…

Own up to the fact that there are voices of expertise within your organization that you are not listening to…

Own up to the fact that your hospitals culture is staring back at you from your bathroom mirror…

Own up to the fact that if you cannot state “zero preventable harm” as a goal – then, by definition, you have agreed to hurt someone’s loved one in a way that could have been prevented…

Own up to the fact that you got into this because you want to make a difference…

Own up to the fact that you’re tired, over worked, stressed, and that you don’t have all the answers…

Or, leave…

Get out, go home, hang it up, retire! Your colleagues, caregivers, team, patients, community, all deserve better than your dishonesty.

We are surely complicit if we continue to stand by and watch – mute, deaf and blind.

I met with a senior member of a hospitals quality and safety department last week, he confided in me (after looking over his shoulder to make sure the door was closed) that his very reputable AMC doesn’t have the leadership “strength” to state that ‘zero preventable harm’ is their goal. He’s embarrassed and afraid to challenge his CEO.

I met with a senior management team that wanted me to know (after I’d found trash lying on the floor of their lobby, that they had walked past and ignored, and I suggested they ‘pick up trash’) that they “have people to do that…”

I hear leaders tell me that they know that their high revenue producing, senior position holding, research leading, long tenure physician colleagues are abusive bullies, and yet they are still employed, practicing and getting their annual bonuses…

These are choices, and my challenge is for us to make different choices.

My challenge comes with a promise…

My promise, is to keep asking difficult questions, pushing for the right answers, and encouraging and coaching healthcare leaders to be brave. Brave to ask when we don’t know, brave to admit that we made a mistake, and brave to reach out and request help.

I for one am not afraid. Apprehensive and nervous, for sure. Apprehensive that my comments will be seen as negative, accusatory and blaming, and nervous that this sentiment will be seen as one more heretic in the noisy world of working to improving safety and become more reliable and excellent.

But when I think about who we are harming, who we hurt every day in the spirit of “health” and “care”, I am not afraid. When I hear the stories of burned out, stressed, under resourced care giver friends and colleagues, I am not afraid. I’m buoyed, inspired and deeply moved by the memories of people like Michael Skolnik, Josie King, Lewis Blackman, and Jerod Loeb; people I never knew, but people who deserved so much better from the cultures that surrounded them and that were meant to take better care of them.

I am also encouraged and inspired by the health and care radicals (leaders at all levels of their organizations) that are making a difference and inspiring their colleagues to think differently, act differently, be transparent, have difficult conversations, model different behaviors and deliver on the promise of “Primum non nocere”.

So my promise is to keep asking difficult questions, pushing for the right answers, and encouraging and coaching healthcare leaders to be brave.

M93Never-Give-Up-Winston-Churchill-Posters

I leave you with challenges and inspirations from three very different healthcare leaders whose work I admire, and who model this mindset of personal accountability;

  • “Rock the boat, without falling out”                       Helen Bevan (NHS guru of innovative change)
  • “Ignite the fire within, not the fire underneath” Peter Fuda (Aussie based wicked smart PhD)
  • “Proceed until apprehended…”                               Florence Nightingale

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5 Comments on “I’m sick and tired – but far from done!”

  1. Richard,
    Bravo you have said it all so
    beautifully
    and you nailed it! The good, the bad and the ugly. Health Professionals do need to stop hiding their heads under the covers and for those that need to change for the better and want too their are many of us out there to help and support them. Thank you from Michael Skolnik’s mom and dad.

  2. […] I’m sick and tired – but far from done! → […]

  3. […] a related and revealing post, I’m sick and tired…but far from done, Telluride faculty and colleague, Richard Corder, shares his ire related to watching the bad eggs […]

  4. Thank you for being a voice for honesty and compassion. I hope your meesage is heeded. I worked in healthcare for years and I have guide the care of a critically ill child for many years. While I appreciate my providers and the obstacles they face, I am often exasperated by a system that forgets we are people, we are intelligent and if we question a decision or recommendation we deserve an open and honest dialogue.


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