Leadership I
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Lessons Learned from Hospital Crises (07:14)

When the threat of quarantining Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital – Dallas staff potentially exposed to the Ebola virus emerged in October 2014, CEO Barclay Berdan came up with an alternate solution: invite those employees to stay at the hospital, on the floor that normally functioned as a hotel for patients and their families.

“There was some discussion at the city level asking all the folks who had been involved in care, many of whom had been furloughed at that point, to wait through their 21-day period [and] actually physically quarantine them, which I thought was overkill,” explains Berdan.  “So I kind of preempted the politicians.”

Continuing the conversation about hospital crises and team care, NEJM Catalyst’s Thomas Lee relates the story of how one year after Hurricane Katrina, he visited a health care organization in New Orleans and was surprised at how well the affiliate private practice physicians there worked with management on improvement, quality, and efficiency. He asked the CFO and some of those physicians why they worked so well together. “It’s Katrina,” they said.

In desperate need of hospital supplies during Katrina, the CFO and a few physicians traveled together to Walmart in search of more. The store was closed — so they broke a window, set off an alarm, and went in. When police arrived at the scene, the CFO explained why they broke in and promised to pay for the supplies later. The police let them go.

“Once you’ve broken into a Walmart with your CFO, you look at life a little differently,” they told Lee. Crisis is a real opportunity to bond people together, and the same occurred for Texas Health Resources.

Exactly how, as a leader, did Berdan keep his employees sharp throughout the month-and-a-half-long disease crisis?

“There was a point in time when I recognized that some of our folks were probably at the end of their rope [but] clearly didn’t want to be sent home,” says Berdan. He sent them home anyway so that they would come back after two or three days, feeling refreshed.

“You have to pay attention,” adds Berdan. “I spent a good deal of time watching folks just to make sure, because I knew I was feeling it.”

Even so, Berdan went to work every day during the crisis. “It was important to see this through, and we never knew what was going to happen on any particular day.”

Berdan describes, for example, how on the day before Halloween, a Texas Health Resources supplier found what looked like a biohazard bag with blood in it — and the name of the Ebola patient on it — at their warehouse.  “We were fairly certain it was not real,” says Berdan. “But if it was real, I thought, this is bioterrorism.” The FBI was called, and two Texas Health employees brought the bag to their laboratory for testing. It ultimately turned out to be a Halloween prank, but nevertheless, a prank that wasted the time and resources of Texas Health Resources for an entire day.

From the NEJM Catalyst event Leadership: Translating Challenge to Success at Mayo Clinic, June 2, 2016.

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