Avera McKennan takes cues from the hotel industry

September 15, 2012

Hospital's hospitality chief lets service staff know they matter

If only Tom Bosch had been on duty when Joseph and Mary needed a room.

For four years, Bosch carried on a Christmas tradition that caught the attention of the leaders at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. Bosch, then general manager of the Holiday Inn City Centre in Sioux Falls, opened the hotel's doors to families in need on Christmas Eve. He set aside 200 rooms and prepared a feast for 850 guests. The next day, the overnight guests were served breakfast and invited to attend a church service.

"I literally dreamed the idea," said Bosch, a 24-year veteran of the hotel industry. "It wasn't Moses and the burning bush, but I do feel like it was an idea that God sent to me — 'You need to open up the doors of the hotel, you need to have a Christmas buffet.'"

Fast forward some three years later. David Kapaska, regional president and chief executive of Avera McKennan, was conducting a search for the hospital's next vice president of hospitality. Kapaska was relatively new to the job and had never filled the role before.

"I was reading the job description — food service, valet, housekeeping, maintenance — and I thought to myself, 'This is a hotel job,'" recalled Kapaska. "I thought of Tom because he had a great reputation in the community, but also because of his heart. I knew he would understand our mission."

Bosch has been on the job since December. His hands-on approach — he attends daily staff lineups and personally reads the "care cards" written by patients, their families and staff members — has resulted in an increase in patient satisfaction ratings.

Bosch said Avera McKennan already boasted a great culture before his arrival, but janitors, cooks and valets did not fully appreciate the value of their work.

"What happens with these behind-the-scenes employees is as important as what our clinical staff does," said Bosch. "Life is made up of interactions, and you can never underestimate the impact that a smile can have. If everyone is doing that consistently and that culture is there, when they leave, they are going to say, 'Wow, it felt different here. Everyone took care of me.' It comes down to the simple day-to-day 'Thank you for doing a good job' and meaning it and letting those employees know they made a difference. I think that's what anybody wants out of their work — to know they mattered."

Bosch has observed that patients often are more tuned in to the performance of their housekeeper than their surgeon.

"When people come to us for medical care, they expect that their physician and nurses know what they are doing and that they have the best medical equipment possible," said Bosch. "They might not understand the technical details of how that happens, but they know if their food is cold, if their room needs to be cleaned. They know if their TV works, they know if people are being friendly."

Before Bosch's arrival, Avera McKennan already had implemented a "one-call response" initiative to improve patient service. The idea is that an employee responds within minutes to patient requests whether they are asking for a warm blanket or a cold drink. In essence, the nurse's station serves as the front desk.

Kapaska thinks the hospital industry can learn a lot from the hotel industry.

"That's a competitive industry and we need to be too," said Kapaska. "Hotels understand people have choices. So if someone asks for something, they respond."

Currently, Bosch is overseeing a variety of projects to improve the hospital's look and service. He is creating a new menu, directing a remodeling of the hospital's public areas and developing programs to reduce waste. His end goal is to give ailing patients a four-star experience.

"We never want to say, 'We can't do that,'" said Bosch. "We can't do everything, but we can always offer options and ideas. If someone calls down and says, 'Hey, can you bring me up a muffin,' I want to respond with something as simple as saying, 'Would you like some juice with that.' Or, if it's 2 a.m., and they weren't able to eat anything at dinner, but now they want something, and there's no medical stipulations, I want to give them a good meal. All of that is such an important part of the healing process."

Bosch also will continue to help the staff at the Holiday Inn feed hundreds of hungry people on Christmas Eve.

"As a lifelong Christian, I want to serve wherever that may be," said Bosch.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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