A Cure for Hospital Aiming to Treat Nonplayers

Innovative Thinking Helps Students Break 'Survey Fatigue' to Identify Key Opportunities

4/8/2014

When you’re surveying as many employees as possible to help a hospital determine its organizational strengths and weaknesses, you’d probably spend a lot of time going over how you want to phrase the different questions to get the most honest, valuable impact.

You might not think about what language those words were written in, though.

But for a senior design team at Stevens’ Howe School of Technology Management, an early decision to make a Spanish version of the survey available to employees may have helped them achieve their strong response, even as Monmouth Medical Center executives said they were worried “survey fatigue” would hinder participation.

The team got the idea for translating the survey when testing it out by taking it themselves and asking friends and family to take it. Alex Aguero, a member of the team, said his sister is a former employee at Hoboken University Medical Center, “and she said one issue we’re going to have is there are a lot of English as a second language employees” at her hospital.

With three fluent Spanish speakers on the team — Aguero, José Gomez and David Rendon-Vasquez — the translation was an easy way to improve their project.

“There was a wave of people asking for the Spanish survey, because they felt more comfortable taking it,” Aguero said.

“A lot of the survey is thought and perception of things,” said Jennifer Camisa, another member of the team. “And so it’s important — if you’re reading something and translating it in your head, you might not get the same approach to really capturing their input.”

Solid returns

That’s part of the reason they got such a strong return from the survey. Nearly 600 employees completed it, out of about 1,800 total, and an impressive 82 percent included comments in their responses — a sign the employees took the exercise seriously.

The survey, which aimed to find ways to maximize employee engagement, included some telling information for the hospital’s executive team. Most notable: The lowest score was in how the hospital deals with disengaged “nonplayers” on the staff.

The hospital is trying to address that issue, said Diann Johnston, vice president of patient care at the hospital, which is part of the Barnabas Health system.

“Some of the things you’ve pointed out here are spot on,” she told the team members during their presentation at the hospital last month. “For instance, getting rid of the nonplayers … we have been frustrated by that, so now, there’s a brand-new policy with zero tolerance per patient complaint.”

The results will be shared with the entire executive team, Johnston added.

Related to that issue is communication: In comments, team members found a hunger for better understanding of the hospital’s direction, how it would meet future challenges, even their job descriptions. The team recommended town hall meetings, with follow-ups from floor leaders, to ensure full staff representation despite the hectic hospital environment.

But there was good news, too. Patient care was a high-water mark for the hospital in the survey, especially in areas like response to patient needs, compassion of staff members and efficiency of care.

A credit to Stevens

“I was thrilled to hear that our staff really do put patients first. That’s very palpable as you walk around the organization, that their hearts are in the right places. It was beautiful to see that validated,” Johnston said, crediting the Howe School with helping that perception among patients.

“Since our partnership with Stevens, we went from having probably at the 10th to 25th percentile of patient satisfaction, now we’re in the 80th, 90th, even 95th percentile,” she said.

The project came about in part because Dr. Donald Lombardi, a Howe professor and director of the Stevens Healthcare Educational Partnership, does so much research in the area of health care, particularly human resources management, leadership and governance in this industry.

Lombardi made sure to give his health care-minded team — which also included seniors Vladislava Boyar and David Czech — plenty of opportunities for exposure while at the hospital, team members said.

“When we were there at Monmouth, he didn’t shy away from making sure we met as many executives as we could, shaking everybody’s hand,” Aguero said. “He went out of his way to walk us around and have us meet people. It was a little eye-opening — as a student you’re going in, you’re doing a job in a hospital, which is a big-time business, and you don’t think executives are going to give you the time of day, but he made that happen for us.”

Futures in health care

Health care is a common interest for team members — Aguero interned at Becton Dickinson, and will be returning as a full-time employee after graduating; Camisa will pursue her nursing degree with a goal of going into family medicine; and Gomez is an EMT.

Stevens projects like this one are preparing those students for their careers, they said.

“You hear a lot of folk tales about how you just need a piece of paper, a degree, and you can go on who you know,” Aguero said. “Well, all those things help, but here, I interned at Becton Dickinson, and all the project management and project leadership-type classes resonated immediately.

“I was in a class of very talented interns at Becton Dickinson, but I’d like to thank Stevens, because I was leaps and bounds ahead of them, in terms of presenting and how to conduct myself in a group situation, especially with executives. I had a great advantage.”

Camisa’s planned future — nursing — isn’t typical of a business school student, but she said her Howe School education will be extremely useful to her.

“Stevens doesn’t just make you a college graduate, it makes you into a real professional,” she said. “It’s prepared me to be a leader in whatever environment I may find myself in.”