Friday, August 17, 2012

JPS Health Network: A Changing Vision and Communication Lessons

The best way to tour a hospital and check out its fluorescent lighting is from a standing position, not while lying on your back. At least that's what we were told by JPS Health Network President and CEO, Robert Earley.

For the record, he's right.

Robert Earley, 
 JPS Health Network
President and CEO
Recently, the Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA took its monthly lunch program on the road and got an "unfiltered view tour" [his words] of Tarrant County's public hospital with Mr. Robert Earley. This tour was our chance to hear from this local leader who is using a strategic communication and community outreach campaign to help change hearts and minds about the Tarrant County Hospital District.

"We're in the life and death business," said Earley of the work JPS does for what last year was over 1 million people. "We hope it's more life." 

As the county's public hospital, JPS gets a bit of bad rap. There's a misconception that since it's funded by tax dollars, people tend to think the care would be sub-par and that there's no need to provide additional resources through private funding. To be clear, his pre-tour talk did not come across to me like a fundraising effort. Instead, he just pointed out parallels to other publicly funded institutions getting additional resources from benefactors to programs they support. (cough - college football coaches salaries - cough) Funding challenges are typical for public institutions and there were many of those challenges he inherited.

As for the care, he explains that he wants a cultural shift. They had previously been operating in a realm of mediocrity. "We're not there yet," he said. Earley recognized, "while the care was good, [they] weren't treating people right." So he made some changes and expected more.

He wants JPS to be a place where best-practices in healthcare are created and then followed by others. Earley expects more from his 4,500 employees: "When people walk in the front door, everybody gets respect."

When they hire, he says they take a "360° approach." They want people with the right skill-set and heart.

Robert Earley has Three Rules for the JPS Health Network staff:
  1. Own It. He wants staff to be proud of where they work. When they hear about the good, it's ok to share that they work for JPS. When there are challenges, it's still ok to share that they work for JPS.
  2. Seek Joy. He wants employees to smile. Ideally, he hopes they have reasons to smile throughout the day. Healthcare can make for a stressful environment, providing clear direction and positivity can go a long way.  
  3. Don't Be A Jerk! Earley is on a personal campaign to against "jerkdom." He cites examples in our society where we seem to raise up jerks and jerk-like behavior ahead of being simply good people.
"We are trying to be a transparent organization." Earley is using what I consider to be a smart community relations tactic with on-site tours. One example of this unfiltered view was that we were encouraged to ask any question along the way; anything was fair game. He's proud of JPS being the Level 1 Trauma Center for Tarrant County. We saw operating rooms, including two that stay staffed, stocked, and ready 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Honestly, it's highly impressive.

Here are some additional public relations take-aways from Robert Earley and the JPS tour:

  • The JPS team observe other healthcare systems going through challenges and then they look internally to see if they have the same issue(s).
  • They want to establish a network by which they can communicate directly with stakeholders and not be reliant on traditional media methods.
  • The quality and safety standards as an organization are constantly in need improvement.
  • Training is top-notch: A JPS nurse receive approximately $64,000 in training. (Trauma nurses get double that amount!) The problem they have is talent retention. Nurse get well-trained, work a while then split. Earley said they have about a 20% turnover rate, which is way too high. (I wouldn't be surprised if JPS starts an aggressive campaign to keep their talent.)
  • Earley instituted a chair policy in the hospital. A folding chair hangs behind the door of the hospital rooms and doctors are required to remove the chair and set it next to patients so that they can be at eye-level with them to talk.
  • There are so many electronic and networked aspects of healthcare in general and especially within the hospital, but not much in their communication. Yet.
During the Q&A period, someone asked how do they tell the JPS story. Earley responded with a smile, "we hired J.R. Labbe."

Jill "J.R." Labbe is the former editorial director for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. I think this is an intriguing move for JPS and for Labbe. I'm interested to see how she can bring her skills to the other side of the news for storytelling and work from within the organization. She expressed some parting words in the newspaper about her new role:
While my responsibilities as vice president of communications and community affairs at JPS will differ greatly from what I've been doing the past 20 years -- and the irony of going from inflicting pain on government employees to being a government employee is not lost -- my love for this community and the people who call it home will not.
Wise move, JPS.

Robert Earley concluded by letting attendees know that others are welcome. They'd appreciate more people coming to JPS and seeing first-hand what's happening and how things are changing for the better. There's work to be done and it's wonderful to see organizational communications and community relations take starring roles in the process for this organization.
This is cross-posted from the Next Communications blog by Richie Escovedo, Fort Worth PRSA 2012 VP of Programs.