December 23, 2015

Last week, as I was thinking about my Christmas message to you, I of course thought about all the things the season typically means – family, beloved traditions, lots of good food and opening that perfect gift. But over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts much greater than anything that fits beneath a tree. In particular, I thought about what a gift it is for us to be able to be here for children when they need us. This time last year, we couldn’t always do that.

Like most years around this time, our patient volume was high, but last year we reached historic highs – at or beyond our 650-bed capacity throughout November and December. On many days we reached a point when we simply had to deny children the opportunity to receive care at Texas Children’s. In fact, in November 2014 we denied 101 hospital transfers.

Denying a patient who is being transferred from another hospital is heartbreaking. These are not low-acuity patients who walk into our Emergency Center with mom. When another hospital attempts to transfer a child to Texas Children’s, that facility has assessed that the patient is so critically ill that he or she needs the comprehensive care that only Texas Children’s can provide. Having to say no to children who needed us last year is not something any of us want to see happen again.

That is why we launched the Promise Campaign to build a new community hospital in The Woodlands and a new tower here in the Texas Medical Center. But the children who need us now cannot wait until that new space is available. We need to be prepared for the high-volume season that is now upon us. And that’s where all of you play such an important role. Our leaders, physicians, nurses and staff have been working intently and strategically for months. We assessed our previous approach to patient flow decision-making, and we created a new structure.

We now have rotating teams of operational leaders and physicians focused on patient volume every day. We created a “real-time demand and capacity” process to manage patient census, so that we assess patient flow at three pivotal points daily and can more accurately forecast bed capacity. We’ve increased acute care capacity at the Main Campus and at the West Campus, and perhaps most impactful is that we’ve shifted the way we think. For example, we no longer approach the PICUs at the Main Campus and the West Campus as separate units – we think systematically about these units and consider the total capacity between them when we make decisions about the best place to send a child for care.

We’ve created interdisciplinary roles dedicated to patient flow, and our executives, physicians and unit leaders are rounding and asking front-line staff, “How are things? What do you need?” And we’re making sure the support is where it’s needed, when it’s needed. This focus and teamwork is what allowed us to continue receiving patients last week when we peaked at a census of 691. We were still able to say yes to families and children who needed us when others shut their doors due to lack of capacity.

This is huge, and it’s important. And in many cases, it’s crucial. What you are doing, what you are dedicated to accomplishing, is working – and because of the effort everyone is making together, we can care for these children at Texas Children’s. For many of these families, there is no greater gift than the moment they learn we have a bed available for their child.

I truly wish that no child ever has to be in the hospital during the holidays, but my greater hope is that if they do, Texas Children’s can be there to care for them and ensure the best possible outcome so that they can see a better Christmas next year. That is our gift – during the holidays and every day. Thank you for all you’re doing to ensure we can continue to offer that gift.

I wish you all happy holidays and a merry Christmas.

December 10, 2015

Each fall, we ask you to get the flu shot to protect yourself and our patients against a potentially deadly infection. As many of you who have worked in other health care organizations know,  getting a flu shot is very often mandatory at  any place else that provides care.

But at Texas Children’s, we have always felt that people who work here are innately driven to do the right thing for our patients. Therefore,  our approach to  flu vaccinations  has always been very  simple – it’s the right thing to do for our patients, and we’re all here to do the best we can by our patients. That means getting vaccinated against the flu so that we have the best chance possible at keeping our patients healthy.

Even U.S. News & World Report recognizes that the rate of flu vaccine compliance at an organization is an indicator of the quality and safety of its environment. That is why they have now included  flu vaccination compliance as one of the measures in their annual best children’s hospitals assessment. While our driver for encouraging you to get vaccinated isn’t primarily about our U.S. News ranking, I can’t fathom that one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals would ever struggle to get complete compliance with flu vaccination.

We ask that you get vaccinated against the flu to protect yourself and to protect those around you who  depend on you to be healthy. When you’re healthy, the patients in our care – children and women – have a much better chance of having a better outcome . Being healthy also allows you to be here for your team and co-workers during one of our busiest times of the year.

I realize that  some people have very strongly held beliefs against getting a flu shot. But  this is so critical. We need everyone at Texas Children’s  to get vaccinated by December 31. Encourage your colleagues to do the right thing, make sure everyone in your family is vaccinated, and educate those around you about getting the flu shot.

This is not about us. It’s about the people we care for. I’m not asking you to do it for you, or me for that matter. I’m asking you to do it for our patients. Please take this responsibility to heart – we owe this simple act to our patients and their families.

Flu vaccinations are free and available in Employee Health at our Main and West campuses. If you receive your vaccination elsewhere, your Texas Children’s insurance will cover the cost. Please call Employee Health at Ext. 4-2150 if you have questions.