TownHall: Employee Engagement and Fostering Collaboration with Pamela Saechow
Episode 7821st May 2024 • This Week Health: Conference • This Week Health
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Today on Town Hall

people used to say we have three link, it's tool, right, it's tools. process, people, and I add the word knowledge because knowledge is what brings everybody together in terms of expanding their skill sets and how they apply those knowledge and concepts to deliver results.

My name is Bill Russell. I'm a former CIO for a 16 hospital system and creator of This Week Health.

Where we are dedicated to transforming healthcare, one connection at a time. Our town hall show is designed to bring insights from practitioners and leaders. on the front lines of healthcare. Today's episode is sponsored by ARMIS, First Health Advisory, Meditech, Optimum Health IT, and uPerform. Alright, let's jump right into today's episode.

Good morning, everyone. I am Karla Arzola, CIO of Rocky Mountain Human Services. Welcome to one more episode of This Week Health. Today, we have a very special guest, Pam Sirchow. She's a Foreman CIO and she's a super successful entrepreneur and a very engaged leader in the healthcare community.

So Pam and I had the opportunity to connect during a DEI event and I was so excited. Very impressed with her background, her energy, and just her ability to connect with people. She has an amazing story and it's super inspiring. And so I figure she'll be a perfect guest for this show. And so I'm just going to let Pam introduce herself.

And thank you for being with us, Pam. Go ahead.

Marla, thank you so much for having me and just want to let you know that the feeling is mutual. The minute I met you at committee, that was just amazing. So I tracked this woman down. I wanted to get to know her. So thank you, Carla, for having me here.

In terms of my introduction, you know, in my background, it all started back in Laos. You know, I was born in Laos and my grandmother was actually a healthcare provider in our village. So at early on stage, she was my early inspiration. If you fast forward, I moved to the U. S. when I was nine years old and I found myself really focusing on helping out the Laotian community with language and healthcare navigation.

That's where my heart for patient advocacy really took start or took hold on, if you will. I really became a patient advocate, guiding individuals through the complexity of our healthcare system and bridging communication, barriers with really my English proficiency.

That was a gift that I had, learning English at a young age and very quickly. In my role as a former CIO, I really had the honor of collaborating with operational stakeholders. As a trusted partner, really focusing on championing the use of technology to enhance revolutionize the way healthcare delivery is done.

And at the helm, we really do focus on placing patients at the forefront. Our IT team, our operational leaders, and our vendor partners really played an integrated and pivotal role in terms of shaping decisions that prioritize the health and well being of the patients. That's what I would say in terms of my former experience as a CIO.

You want to give us a little insight? Because you know you, I know you work for big organizations. You didn't mention that.

Yeah, I started actually as a pharmacy technician at Sutter Health. Moved to Sutter Health into Y2K, if we remember the Y2K infamous days. Y2K gave me the initial start into technology.

They recruited me because of my operational background. Being in the pharmacy space, I'm really working with the care team, so learning IT was a little bit new for me, but in the pharmacy section, I was actually responsible for helping with guiding a lot of the pharmacy build, the PIXUS upgrades during those days, so I guess IT really became a natural fit.

Probably took me a good six months for me to see that light bulb that came on say, Oh my God, I love IT. Because I think prior to six months, I was calling my boss back going, you want to take me back to the job? But within the first six months, I think that light bulb turned on. I said, what a privilege to be on this side of the house, to be thinking about advocating for those who really need technology, to work for them, to serve the patients.

And that really drew me in to say, I am in the right place and I am where I need to be. So fast forward. I spent almost 24 years at Sutter Health. During the time from managing over 11, 000 systems that we were doing, I ended up being responsible as the EHR program director for Sutter Health. We're rolling out and launching their EHR program across the 27 acute care facilities and 250 clinics, really throughout northern California, and then move to New York City Health and Hospitals.

I was there T minus 120 days. I always tell people of a 5 year install at. Really had a lot of transition and turmoil. So coming in, really working with this DELWR team to turn that project around and then rebuild the program roadmap and digital strategy on how we would go to a single EHR platform.

Because we were launching Epic Clinicals, Sorian Revenue Cycle, and Cerner Millennium Lab. So that was our first implementation, then really re strategize and looked at some of the patient experiences, outcomes, and rebuild the roadmap to get approval to go for fully. Integrated EHR shortly thereafter, I was recruited to follow a really great leader that I worked with to go to Cleveland Clinic and was working at Cleveland Clinic for a couple of years before I moved to Philadelphia and took on a CIO role.

So that's a little bit of my healthcare journey spent. If you add it all up, my age really shows, but I've been spending more than two decades in the healthcare industry.

Hey, nobody's counting, okay? You look amazing. So, I know that I would, when I was talking to you we, we went over some of your experiences and some of the challenges that you encounter throughout your career.

And some of them were very much related to when you took over this teams, right? And all the places that you talked about high employee turnover. Very disengaged staff, and which is some of the things that we continue to see, right? I don't want to bring it up because I know that like post COVID, like, yeah, I know it happened like a year ago, but we still see the consequences of it, right?

Like things change, and so, walk us through some of those challenges and what happened.

Yeah, well, change is hard, and I've walked into a lot of scenarios as a leader where I've taken on teams. Yeah. Has gone through quite a bit of change, and one particular example I will say is I just mentioned to you, I came in T 120 days to one of the largest EHR rollouts in New York City at New York City Health and Hospitals, and I would say, coming in there, they've just had a lot of change, right?

Having reported or changed to like five different leaders. I was the fifth one walking in, it's very hard for people to really get a grasp about, is this the leader that I'm going to work with and is the culture going to stick moving forward? So really building trust and credibility and learning how to re inspire their hearts and minds to the connection, to the purpose is really important.

So I use blend a little bit of what I call art and science and the equation. By really spending time to first look into the data sets. So I look at like, did we do any customer surveys on how our staff interacts with our customers we serve? Is there a net promoter score on that? Did we do any employee satisfaction scoring surveys on how our staff responded to us?

Obviously, I love spending time frontline with the staff and getting to know them and observing them and so interviewing them. Getting my own observations, so I do a lot of data collection and gathering insights, followed by something that's worked really well for me is creating what I call an employee engagement committee, which is, I look through my organization within the IT department, I pick all the functional areas and make sure I never have anything more than about eight people representing But I normally pick I call it voice of staff, Employee Engagement Committee.

I bring them into the committee and I really leverage them to kind of look at the data I've collected and really help collaborate with them to make sure they're part of the process and identifying those areas of opportunity that we need to work on to build that. Company culture of employee engagement and happiness and really being connected back to purpose.

And so an example of us doing something like that in the organization we came in, the employee satisfaction surveys were pretty low in that process, obviously having gone through such turmoil for the last five plus years, right? So being able to work with them and see the measure and monitor success was really important to me.

So seeing the employee satisfaction scores basically almost double I think was really incredible to take us from the red to green zone was important to us even the staff Turnover, specifically a particular group in general, our staff turnover rate, I recall, was quite high. It was almost in the 40 percentile.

Part of it was because we were implementing EPIC, competing against a very very much competitive market where everybody's going to EPIC at the same time. And so, figuring out what the salary analysis is, figuring out what those look like, it certainly took me about eight months with the support of the entire team.

leadership team and New York City to help, but we were able to really make those changes happen. And we were able to introduce every month something to do with employees. So it might be Black Tie Tuesday. We could be lining up with Nursing Appreciation Month to do cakes, but every month we made it part of our culture to celebrate something special and make us part of the culture and identity.

And I think that really helped. Really make sure that they're part of the process and they felt this was part of their culture and they made it happen with me. So it wasn't me. It was selectively what we all believed in. And so that's something I'm really proud of is the employee engagement committee.

And I use that really with every company I've served in as always. That's the first thing to get started.

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Subscribe to This Week Health Conference and stay updated every Thursday.   📍  Let me ask you something. So how do you vet this team, right? What are What makes a committee team successful? Because I mean, I'm sure you have to engage multiple people that are very committed to and maybe people are not so committed to.

So what made it in your case successful? How do you select those different?

Yeah, I think the selection process is quite interesting. First, we take feedback from my leaders, and I kind of get a sense like, this is the purpose of the employee engagement committee. I need a makeup where all of your teams are pretty much represented.

They bring information back. So they're a spokesperson. So I put together like a requirements gathering in terms of, here's the role model of what I'm looking for within your team. And I'm looking for actually a little bit of diversity. So diversity in terms of the type of work they're being done. I look at diversity just to make sure that all the different race and ethnicity is really part of this program, because I think that's really important.

I look for people that aren't just. Yay, super positive Pollyannas every day, but I'm also looking for those that are a bit on the pessimistic side, where it's like, I'm cautiously optimistic or I tend to identify a lot of risk, with putting in change. And so I kind of mix it up a little bit to make sure I have a good, diverse pool.

of people that will bring alternative perspectives, different opinions, when it comes to shaping solutions, right, for the team. And so it's a little bit of a selection process where everybody picks those people within their teams and they say, here's two people we look at. And then I normally sit down and I talk to each one of those individuals and say, these are objectives.

Tell me a little about yourself. Tell me what makes you interested in this process. I want to know why you were selected for this. Cause some people are like, I want to do this. And I have to kind of convince them to say, you want to do this because you want to be part of this. So, for example, somebody who's really excited about being on the committee, you don't need to do a lot of convincing, right?

They're already on board. But those who don't want to do the committee, it's like, well, we've tried a lot of things and it's never worked. Why do you think this is going to work? that's why I need you part of the solution. Because I want you to be empower enabled. To say, here's what didn't work, so what can we do differently to make it work?

And I really believe that your passion to understand some of those risks and why things have failed in the past will actually contribute to us in a very positive manner. And your voice I care about it as well as the rest of the team. So I think some of it takes a little bit convincing to recruit the team, that really you want to make sure there's a dynamics of the team.

And then when we. Do formulate the team. We do the five dynamics exercise and kind of get a sense of how we all work together in the next year. By the way, we refresh this committee every year. Every year, we replace the members and refresh our team and mix it up the second year round. And the team that's in the first year, they nominate their backups for the next year for something we do.

So we kind of go through that. And every month during our monthly staff meetings and town hall meetings. Employee engagement, I have a spokesperson who always speaks about what's going on. So it's really not me or my leader speaking. It's one of those voices that are sharing some of the great things we're doing in the employee engagement committee.

So I think you mix it up with different recipes.

I love that. let's take a step back. So we talk about like once you form the committee, you change it every year. There's obviously Does the priorities change drastically or is it normally the same? How do you prioritize and how do you make sure that you're moving forward with your priorities and make sure that obviously there is a level of engagement that you have to have from your leadership team and your stakeholders to make sure that you're able to make those changes.

Can we talk about that dynamic?

Yep. And I think it's when you start a committee like this, you kind of have to put some guardrails together, right? Because you don't want to disappoint people if you said, we're here to empower, enable, and make change happen, and they feel like change can't happen. It's really important to make sure you set those rules up front.

So my guardrails always are. Anything we can do within our control, we can implement easily, we can control within the sphere of our department. But if things where we're talking about salary changes, JDs, different things, certainly we need approval from our HR partners to work together with them.

We need our executive team approval to do some of those things. And so I do set some guardrails so we understand that some of these things might take longer than others to see fruition occur or see results happen. So, as an example every year I look at the employee surveys and we normally go through what I call, like, different sections, right?

And I think anybody that participates in employee surveys knows, do I have the tools and processes to do my job effectively? Right? Is there a good career development? Do you feel you're supported for your career growth? And so that points out like we have deficiencies in training, etc. Are we managing our time wisely?

Do you feel you're supported by your leader? So there's a subset of questions that bubble down to what I call several categories. And those categories are tools and efficiencies, training and learning experience, professional development opportunities, other things are cultural. Which is, I feel like you don't, you guys don't help me balance my life balance with work.

I get calls on the weekends all the time. It's really not urgent, right? So, priority, competing priorities constantly. So, I bucket those into priorities and then those priorities do kind of shift from year to year. So, when we do voting around that, we kind of sit at the tables at what actions do I want to put into place?

Pick one or two things in the top three categories we want to work on where our score is the lowest. And then pick one thing where we do really well, but we want to keep doing well at. And then we kind of put action plans around each one of those categories, and then we work those action plans throughout the conversation.

So a couple examples I've done as an example is meeting etiquette. People are like, we are so, we don't have meeting efficiency. People show up with no agendas. They don't do good time management. We're always running over meetings. We don't start on time. So as part of the Employee Engagement Committee, we created a sub task force that created, that did meeting etiquette, you know, start on time and in fact, let's end five minutes early because we, people have back to back meetings.

So we're like every 30 minutes. We're going to do a 25 minute meeting. For an hour meeting, 50 minutes so people have time to go. So we created those meeting etiquette cards. You come with agendas. Here's the standard agenda we're going to use. We printed those out and put it in all the meeting rooms. So that when people do meetings, that's an example of something we did.

Well, changing the meeting parameters requires leadership or support. So we pitched that to the organization, and it has to be supported by your boss and others that said, yes, you can go ahead and do that. And so obviously things like that require time to take place. And then we talked about lunch and learn sessions as a result of, we don't have enough learning experiences.

And some of it wasn't just, Spending money and going to training site because obviously we need to be fiscally responsible. So a lot of it is, I would love to know how to do an Excel document a little bit better and build out pivot tables and formulas. We have five people in this team that does it so well.

Who are they? Let's spread the knowledge. So then we came up with Lunch and Learn. Every Friday for the first six months, we're going to do, and then we're going to go to quarterly, and we're going to do lunch and learn sessions where someone else is teaching a topic of knowledge to the rest of the team.

So we're not spending money, but we're also showcasing the talent pool within our organization. So if you need help, you're struggling with, Putting together some good formulas or pivot tables. Go talk to these five people. And in addition, let us also teach you how to do this as well, right? So those are examples of employee engagement committees where we discuss what the plans are, we define the plan itself, and then we execute the plan and we measure.

Next year when we do the next survey, you actually will see scores improve in those areas. Some are very substantial and they can improve anywhere from like 5 to 15 percent and others are less, especially in training. Training is a hard one, I think, for us, at least for Employee Engagement Survey. It just seems people have different definitions of what kind of learning experience they want to have.

So that one is always challenging in terms of moving the cheese. However, it always does increase in the scoring anywhere from Three to eight percent at any given time.

That is very interesting because talent, again, continues to be one of the biggest challenges. You said it right. Everybody learns differently.

Everybody feels like their area of need is different from the other person. Sometimes it happens too that there's so many competing priorities even though we're giving the space for people to learn, it could be challenging again because you're like, well, I have to do all those things throughout my work day and then I still have to dedicate time.

So, super quick question. How do you make sure that, once you create all the strategies. Keep people from the organization engaged because you can provide all the tools, right? But how do you make sure that they participate? How do you make sure that people are, again, that they're taking advantage of everything, like the resources that the team is providing them to continue to develop talent?

What have you done in the past? Yeah, I think developing talent and growing talent is literally a lifelong journey. But most importantly, I think it is It needs to be baked into our culture, like it literally needs to be day in a life of this is what our work looks like. So in this particular situation, I've actually worked with our team to create what I call day in a life checklist.

And the day in a life checklist is based on your various roles, right? As a director, as a lead, as an analyst. Who's working on projects versus those for those organizations who separate support operation functions for implementation project work or those who combine what type of percent allocation should you be sending each one of those areas.

And then one of the things we put into our end of the day in a life at the end of the day is self reflection. What did we learn today? What worked well? How can we apply those lessons to learn moving forward? And then during our leadership meeting at the end of the week, we do what we call a huddle.

So daily huddles roll up from your directs to their directs up to your direct report as a leader, right? So every day we do a 15 minute huddle. And I have three things on my huddles. FYIs, reward recognition, and things we need to follow up and track. But always under the reward and recognition, Somebody is always celebrating so and so went and got certified, got trained in certain things, or wow, this person did a fantastic job, and so we said we need to train that person in a particular area.

Or we had a challenge, we didn't have enough people who understood the concept of lean or change management, so who in our team knows ProSign? We need to do some learning. For that. So let's make that a learning session. Let's schedule it for our next lunch and learn session, put down table. So we make it part of our daily discussion and dialogue into our daily huddles, formulate top of mind, what that learning journey needs to look like so that we continue to build knowledge across our teams.

And that's really what I call, people used to say we have three link, it's tool, right, it's tools. process, people, and I add the word knowledge because knowledge is what brings everybody together in terms of expanding their skill sets and how they apply those knowledge and concepts to deliver results.

So that's why we make knowledge really part of our daily life and our daily conversations and it gets literally embedded into our daily huddles as part of the methodology.

Love it. So, people, process, technology, knowledge. That's the fourth one. And so what I'm hearing is, really, as leaders, we have to be super intentional.

It's not about saying that we have to create a program. We have to really have a structure around the program and be intentional about people learning and, focusing on each specific individual. Lastly, I want to pick your brain on what trends do you foresee shaping talent development strategies in healthcare IT, Pam?

Yeah, I think, as you look at the trends, you know, whether I'm going to CHIME or , conferences, and just really, I'm also very academic. I love to read up on stuff all of the time, like what's going on. I think that our growth and demand for healthcare IT specialists is going to continue to grow.

Even more refined, right? When we think about discussions around our, AI, where that fits in our equation, when we think about, the rise of data analytics, how to interpret the data, how to understand the data, how to take those insights and turn them into actions. I think continued optimization of EHRs to create more seamless workflows with less touches is going to continue to be a high demand in our organization.

And as you can see, we have so many emerging technologies. That come up all the time to revitalize healthcare. I mean, I was at HIMSS recently and I looked when you walk across and you're looking at all the emerging technologies and new product solutions and things that come, you know, so I really think about how do you revitalize healthcare delivery with all of those emerging technologies.

How do we continue to find solutions for access to care, which is still a problem. I myself went through as a recent patient. My next available appointment. In a crucial, painful conversation where I'm in a lot of pain is like six weeks out for a special test, like that's not acceptable when as a patient you're in pain, right?

So figuring out that access to care when you need it, how you need it is going to continue to be a high demand and need. And I think the ability to continue to do patient engagement. How do we get out to our patient population to understand what they need? How do we give them the way they need care to be delivered to them the way they want, right?

And respecting the DEI of our world, diversity of language barriers, and how do they access that care, transportation, geography, where they live, and their demographics, all of those really play. So I think those are continued growing trends we need to continue to work on. I think finding good talent.

And retaining good talent is going to continue to be something that we're going to have to continue to work through. I think it's going to continue to increase. And then last but not least, I think doing more with less when it comes to fiscal responsibility and fiscal strength is continuing to be a challenge.

And as such, we really need to look at ways to be lean. So I think those are some of the trends I think about. And when I think about that, like, if you can't go buy talent, they always say, do you buy something? Do you partner with something? Do you build it your own? Like, you need to be thinking more about that.


is the best model for you as an organization? Do you want to buy? Do you want to partner? Right, or do you want to build that solution? And I think that's something, as we look at that, continue to find the right balance of those. And last but not least, I think, learning and training and development, I feel like as people, dollars or budgets, it disheartens me a little bit.

That first thing to do is we're like, well, it's labor, it's training, you can't go get training and knowledge. And the reality is, We, we just talked about knowledge and how important that is. The skill sets you give to somebody and build, to get them to be a high performing talent is more necessary than ever.

So, if you can't spend the money to do it, what can you do to get creative to build some of your own internal programs? Because we've done things like that before in organizations where we didn't have the money. We built our own version of Bagel Master, Homegrown, I mean Toastmaster, we called it something different.

We built our own Homegrown Leadership Academy. Because we couldn't afford to send people to certain programs. And so we did a homegrown and taught by our own executive team. So I think learning to be creative, to find those solutions that doesn't hinder us from growing that talent and retaining the talent culturally, but doing it in a more fiscally responsible way, I think those are things we need to continue to work on.

Awesome. Well, thank you for your insights and your knowledge and sharing your experiences with us. I appreciate the time. And anything else you want to add to close the segment?

No, just, really appreciate the conversation and having me part of this dialogue. I really appreciate it. I'm just really passionate about the healthcare industry.

I think for me, every single day has always been patients are our purpose, growing up with someone who raised me and sacrificed everything she had to bring me to the U. S. I am so privileged to be in the U. S. and to be honored to be serving in the healthcare industry and so very passionate about it.

What are things we can do to help make patients experience a lot better, but while we're doing that, how do we support and bolster the team that work for us? Make sure they feel appreciated, they make sure they feel valued and empowered throughout the process. I often always tell people, no isn't an answer, but what can I do to support you to make something happen?

Let's talk about that. And so always find the positive and find the silver lining to bring things together and deliver results. It's really what I would end with.

I love it. Thank you, Pam. I appreciate it. We're super lucky to have you as a leader and looking forward to more conversations like this. Thank you so much.

I love

it. Thank you, Carla. Have a great day. Yeah, you too. Take care.

Thanks for listening to this week's Town Hall. A big thanks to our hosts and content creators. We really couldn't do it without them. We hope that you're going to share this podcast with a peer or a friend. It's a great chance to discuss and even establish a mentoring relationship along the way.

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