Jerome Walker knows the difference Christiana Hospital has made in his life.
The Townsend man was diagnosed in 1999 with kidney disease and underwent kidney transplant surgery in 2008. Now he and other patients with a passion for The Christiana Care Way are making a difference for Christiana Hospital.
Walker is one of 15 community members of Christiana Hospital’s new Patient and Family Advisory Council, which also includes 10 Christiana Care employees. At the council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 8, Christiana Care President and CEO Robert J. Laskowski, M.D., MBA, congratulated the group for making it through the extensive interviewing process and thanked them for their partnering with Christiana Care.
“You could really feel the warmth of everyone in that room,” said Shawn R. Smith, MBA, vice president of Patient Experience, who also spoke at the kick-off meeting. “Everyone walked away feeling proud to be part of this initiative, which is about providing the absolute best care with the absolute best experience for patients and their families.”
The council will meet monthly to provide input and guidance that will help to advance The Christiana Care Way.
A new idea came to light even before the first meeting ended, when one patient adviser related in casual conversation that she wished she had had a support group when her husband had been in the hospital.
“The most important part will be getting the council members’ ideas and feedback to committees throughout the hospital,” Smith said. “Ultimately, our vision for the hospital councils is to have them completely run by our advisers and reporting up through a system-wide steering committee.”
Kimberly Talley, RN, MSN, CRNP, CNML-BC, FABC, director of patient care services, surgery division, and co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council steering committee, believes that the focus on patients and their families — and understanding that patient and family are one and the same — is key for health care organizations making the leap from “good to great.”
Including family in patient care is essential, she said, and Christiana Care has embraced that philosophy.
“No matter how good we are, if we don’t have that patient and family perspective, we’re not going to be able to provide the optimal patient experience and meet our goals to our neighbors,” Talley said.
Christiana Care’s Patient and Family Advisory Council program began at Wilmington Hospital in May 2011. The council at Christiana Hospital will operate similarly to the Wilmington Hospital council, beginning with a three-month orientation process and then meeting monthly to provide a clear patient and family perspective to help guide decisions about processes and policies throughout the hospital.
At Wilmington Hospital, the experience was “transformative,” said Shelley Nix, senior patient representative, Patient Relations Department, co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council steering committee.
“We were embarking on our construction transformation project and our transformation to become a patient- and family-centered care facility, which included developing the advisory council,” Nix said.
As the physical transformation took place on the Wilmington Hospital campus, the advisory council was working inside the hospital to transform what it means to put patients at the center of activity and operations.
“When we opened the doors of our new entrance, the Patient and Family Advisory Council was right here with us to celebrate and was recognized by leaders for their dedication and work,” she said.
Walker has already learned firsthand the value of Christiana Care’s partnership with patient and family advisers. He has volunteered on the Wilmington Hospital council for two years.
“We talked about everything from facilities management all the way up to how to best communicate about patient fall risks,” Walker said about the Wilmington council. When the opportunity arose to serve at Christiana Hospital, where most of his direct experience has been as a patient, he was excited.
“It’s my home hospital,” he said. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been there. And when my second child was born there as a preemie, that was overwhelming. But everyone made sure we felt welcome and knew everything that was going on.”
Walker treasures the chance to be part of a team that is helping all patients have that kind of positive experience at Christiana Hospital.
“It has been rewarding to see our work put into play in ways that put patients first,” Walker said. The advisers have been especially proud to watch Christiana Care’s climbing patient-satisfaction scores.
Amanda Sleeper is another volunteer member of the new council, and another parent of a premature baby who spent time in Christiana Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. That experience and her desire to help Christiana Hospital improve the NICU experience for other parents prompted Sleeper to volunteer on a family-centered care initiative in that department, which led to her joining the hospital-wide Patient and Family Advisory Council.
“Christiana Hospital is full of amazing people who are very willing to explore their practices and see if they can improve. The overall attitude I’ve found is that no matter how good we are, let’s look for ways we can improve,” she said.
That commitment to action is central to the advisory council’s success, Talley said.
“This is not the frosting on the cake. This is part of who we are,” she said. “When you solidify that commitment to putting patients and families first, and your leaders are involved as participants, it’s clear that not only do we believe this, but we take action to improve it.”
“Each of us has the power to make or break the patient experience, no matter what our role is,” Smith said. “We will continue to partner with our advisers to help us advance The Christiana Care Way.”