Healthy hospital committee puts heart into health care

It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge your weakness. Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) is a hospital determined to create a high performance culture with courage and hope. Following a series of consistently low employee engagement surveys, the hospital decided to adopt a new approach to positively address long-standing employee morale issues.

Groups such as the World Health Organization, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the National Quality Institute have identified that engaged employees have an impact on the quality of patient care delivered in health care settings. They also note that health care workers have the lowest level of trust and commitment to their employer and the lowest ratings of workplace communication.

To address issues of trust, recognition and communication within its walls, PRHC established a Healthy Hospital Steering Committee in 2011, populating it with 15 front-line staff, physicians and volunteers who have demonstrated the hospital’s values in the work they do every day. These employees are nominated by their peers to serve a two or three year term on the committee. The hospital’s Director, Healthy and Safe Environment serves as chair.

“Our Healthy Hospital Committee serves an important role recognized at all levels and has the full support of our senior team to make our hospital a better place for all. The team is working with Dr. Graham Lowe to develop a healthy hospital improvement plan that will be rolled out over the next few months,” explains Sue Robertson, PRHC’s Director, Healthy and Safe Environments.

Dr. Lowe is the author of Creating Healthy Organizations: How Vibrant Workplaces Inspire Employees to Achieve Sustainable Success and is an expert on creating healthy and productive work environments.

“I applaud PRHC’s initiative, challenging its employees to lead the way to a healthy organization. By focusing on the process of improving the hospital and involving employees at all levels, PRHC is opening a door for its people to take leadership and initiate ways they can make a positive difference. Front-line change agents can make small changes that add up over time to a healthier organization,” Dr. Lowe says.

PRHC’s Healthy Hospital Committee monitors performance in employee satisfaction at PRHC. Its purpose is to provide direction, oversight and support to programs and departments for strategies to improve performance and achieve targets. This work includes strategies and initiatives that contribute to a workplace that is positive, supportive, respectful, inspired and vibrant with shared leadership.

Notes Colleen Howson, a committee member and Manager, Health Information and Centralized Staffing and Scheduling Office: “This is an investment in making things much better at PRHC. We know there is a lot we can do to improve morale and we also know we can do it. My hope is to see greater recognition for the positive things that happen within our hospital across and within the different departments.”

“Communication is also really important,” she adds: “We need to communicate things that are changing to help people get through the change and have the information available to use before, during and after the change. We are putting things in place to help with stress and coping. We need to ensure employees know we are there for them.”

For Howson, the Committee is about looking forward with a fresh perspective: “We still focus on the past and our world is coloured by the past. I think it is really important for this committee to show, improve and support the ways we can look into the future. We need to move away from ‘we tried that and it never worked.’ This is just the first step in a hundred steps forward.”

Marion Burton agrees. Having worked at PRHC for 37 years, she says: “We can’t keep doing the same old stuff and think things are going to change. This group is an opportunity to try something different. I hope we are able to empower staff at all levels from top to bottom to make positive changes in the culture here at PRHC.”

PRHC’s Healthy Hospital Committee has decision-making authority for all corporate policies, programs, tools and initiatives related to corporate employee satisfaction and the employee experience. It reports in to the hospital’s Inter-Program Operations Committee and is accountable to the hospital’s Board Quality of Care Committee through PRHC’s senior management team.

“We’ve taken the lead from employees who identified their needs for more recognition and communication. Our role is to speak to their needs and provide services for those things that employees have identified as important to them,” says Carol Holme-Killingbeck, a Registered Nurse in Occupational Health Services, approaching her 28th year as a PRHC employee. “We’re providing tools for employees to identify ways they can improve their personal wellness and bring a positive attitude to work. We want employees to see the positive at PRHC. We need to let the positive define us and spread the sunshine. This committee is about ‘paying it forward.’ We need to be positive role models for others.”

“Our goal is to create opportunities for learning to support staff at all levels – we want to celebrate employee successes both in the hospital and the community. We want to provide opportunities for employees to improve their health and wellness. We recognize the need for staff engagement in wellness programs,” Holme-Killingbeck adds.

For Jennifer McLauchlan, Director Transformation and People Support at PRHC, the Healthy Hospital Committee is “a catalyst for change.” Her role is to attend the Committee meetings and act as an advisor to the Committee.

“We’ve had a number of surveys that all say the same thing – our culture lacks trust, communication and opportunities for development. We’ve tried many approaches to improve. This is the first time that we’ve put in place a way for front line staff to tell senior team that these are the changes that we need to make to shift our culture to where we want it to be. It’s about giving staff a voice to tell us how to make the change and make the different. That’s the biggest change – today versus one year ago,” McLauchlan explains.

“Happy people are more productive. We want to come to work and make it better for everyone – patients and staff – and anyone else who enters our door,” concludes Lynn McCoy, Clerk, Volunteer Services at PRHC.