Holy Redeemer undertakes culture change grounded in personal connections

March 1, 2018


It was a tough move to Holy Redeemer St. Joseph Manor in Meadowbrook, Pa., in late 2016 for George Hargraves. He'd lived his entire life with his brother Tom Hargraves until Tom's health declined and he needed skilled nursing care. When circumstances prompted George to move to the long-term care facility, there was no room at the time for his beloved sibling.

Almost every day for a year, George checked with St. Joseph Manor's admissions director to see if a space had opened up for his brother.

When the much-anticipated vacancy in skilled nursing became available last November, St. Joseph Manor staff hosted a surprise welcome for Tom, decorating the front lobby with balloons. "Then, after lots of hugs and congratulations, the staff arranged for the brothers to have a private lunch of their favorite meal together, pizza and soda," recalls Christine Holt, the chief experience officer at the system.

Brothers Tom Hargraves, left, and George Hargraves celebrate their reunion over a pizza at Holy Redeemer St. Joseph Manor long-term care facility in Meadowbrook, Pa. George moved to the facility in 2016, but a spot didn’t open for his brother until late last year. Staff members added special flourishes to make the reunion festive.

The staff's thoughtfulness is an example of what Holt calls a "Big E" experience. And from her perspective, every person who interacts with Holy Redeemer Health System should regularly be having such experiences. "It's about delivering the unexpected, creating memories, having meaning, delivering a warm welcome, inspiring people," she says.

Paying attention
Holt says Holy Redeemer recognizes that by paying attention and making personal connections with patients and residents at its facilities, with their family members and with colleagues, staff can find opportunities to inject comfort and even joy into the lives of others. People repay such experiences with loyalty.

Meadowbrook-based Holy Redeemer includes a 242-bed hospital, two skilled nursing facilities, a retirement community, low-income housing, home health and hospice services, a transitional housing program and other services in southeastern Pennsylvania and in much of New Jersey. Each of the system's 4,100 employees holds the potential to make a difference in a patient's or resident's or colleague's day and contribute to a culture where people feel welcome and valued, Holt says.

To that end, Holy Redeemer set out to shape employee education and formation programs, intent on ensuring that staff feel inspired every day to make someone's day.

The system has been evolving its approach since 2011; it recently opened a facility where its executives and employees meet to shape and advance it. (See below.)

Experience U
Michelle Lemma directs specialty services for Holy Redeemer, and she was one of dozens of associates from the system office and its facilities who served on groups that initiated work to create a culture where warm human connections are the norm.

Lemma says the groups developed formative experiences to connect Holy Redeemer associates with the system's mission to care, comfort and heal, and recognize their essential role in carrying it forward through creative, authentic encounters.

Holy Redeemer culture change work includes staff formation, staff volunteers who inspire creativity among their colleagues, facility redesign and life coaching for staff.

Through "Experience U" staff learn about the work and charisms of Holy Redeemer's foundress and sponsors, the Sisters of the Redeemer, in a nonclinical education course taught by their colleagues. Employees who have worked at least six months at Holy Redeemer are required to attend Experience U. There is a two-day course for managers; and a one-day course for everyone else. Up to 25 people can participate per session.

Before employees attend Experience U, they provide information by phone to a system representative, who asks them questions about their personal preferences, such as favorite quotes, colors and snacks.

Lemma says she and other presenters use that information to make participants feel valued. For example, presenters may put attendees' favorite quotes on poster boards in their favorite colors.

Tim Carr, an information technology analyst, had been employed in the system office for less than a year when he attended Experience U in April 2016. He says the course challenged him and the other participants to examine how they live and work.

A video he saw as part of the course has stuck with him. It depicts people in a health care setting — a visitor and a physician, for instance — and conveys what they are experiencing, but not expressing verbally. Carr says the video underscored for him the complexity of human emotion and cognition, and the importance of moving beyond the superficial to have a meaningful impact on people. "The experience as a whole changed how I interact at work and in my personal life," he says.

Creativity catalysts
As part of its culture transformation, Holy Redeemer staff members step up to be creativity catalysts. These individuals get tapped to help groups of associates think imaginatively about an issue or challenge. Catalysts now are helping primary care offices to think through how to improve the patient experience. One big change currently taking place is that staff are encouraged to add personal details about patients into a nonclinical section of the electronic medical record, to pave the way for Big E experiences. A nurse might note: Patient's son is going to college in the fall, as a reminder to herself to ask how the transition is going at the next appointment.

Holt acknowledges not all patients will want Big E experiences. "Our staff uses their instincts. By assessing verbal and nonverbal cues, we can determine the type of interaction the patient is seeking."

Architects are redesigning physical spaces to deliver a more patient-friendly experience. The redesign at multiple physician offices replaced the registration desk with private rooms where staff check in patients in privacy.

To help staff achieve their own personal transformation goals, six life coaches provide counseling at a discounted rate to Holy Redeemer employees.

First impressions
Job candidates who are short listed for any position at the Holy Redeemer system office or at any of its facilities get a firsthand experience in the culture of connection, Holt says. Holy Redeemer's goal is to hire for genuine fit with its quest to build a culture centered on personal connections. "People living out their purpose is what we're really after," she says.

Job applicants are asked to bring a few items or mementos that hold personal significance to spark a get-to-know-me discussion with a system recruiter.

The exercise shows how easy it is to make a connection, Lemma says. Interviewers recognize that some job applicants may not be comfortable with what Holy Redeemer calls a job "audition," and the expectation that the applicant verbalize personal insights and aspirations with a stranger. The recruiters use icebreakers to put applicants at ease and assure candidates that they can set conversational boundaries, Lemma says.

Experience officer Holt acknowledges that transformations like the one Holy Redeemer is undertaking can meet with resistance. "People need to see the reason for change to support it and be a part of it, so we were continuously mindful of that throughout the process and even today," she says.

Renovated convent serves as hub for culture transformation initiatives

Holy Redeemer Health System in Meadowbrook, Pa., renovated its sponsors' former convent to create the "Holy Redeemer Transformation Center." Bold décor and accents are meant to inspire creativity.

The majority of Holy Redeemer Health System's cultural transformation work is now driven from the "Holy Redeemer Transformation Center." The center opened in October 2016 in a building that had been the provincialate of the Sisters of the Redeemer — the building outgrew the congregation. The facility in Meadowbrook, Pa., underwent an extensive renovation and now is home to the Experience Design Team. This department includes a few dozen staff with positions closely tied to the culture transformation initiative.

The 21,535-square-foot, two-story center includes gathering spaces with videoconferencing capabilities, meditation rooms, conversation spaces and a café. The rooms have bold, colorful art installations, many of them based on nature motifs. The system calls these meeting areas "Spark!"


Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.