A few weeks ago, I had a patient tell me that she was very nervous to come to treatment. She said that once she was here, she found the staff to be compassionate, professional, knowledgeable, and happy. The word happy resonated with me, because as the Chief Operating Officer at Sanford Behavioral Health, I have a responsibility to establish and maintain a healthy and positive working environment for our teams. It is also my strong belief that as a behavioral healthcare organization, our workplace culture impacts our patient outcomes.
What are Outcomes?
What are outcomes? Outcomes are measurements of how our services impact a patient’s symptoms, behaviors, and cravings. For example, the status of a patient’s physical and mental health at the time they are discharged from our care. Outcomes are important in healthcare, more specifically, in behavioral healthcare, because they show us how effective our treatment programs are.
Over the years, we have invested in our workplace culture to provide a pleasant space for patients to recover and a great place for staff to work. Why? Because a positive workplace culture impacts patient satisfaction and the team’s performance. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. During my time at Sanford, I have been tasked with managing significant growth, while maintaining the existing culture. This has not been an easy task during a global pandemic when mental and behavioral healthcare needs skyrocketed. At the same time, resources and staffing became more difficult to come by. Today, as a licensed and accredited substance use disorder, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, the need for staff wellbeing is more important than ever.
Workplace culture is the unique character of an organization – its personality. A positive workplace culture in a mental health facility attracts talent, impacts wellness, and improves the health and satisfaction of both staff members and patients.
“Workplace culture is the environment that surrounds us all the time.” Forbes
Effecting Positive Change
As a behavioral health facility, Sanford values mental health as well as physical health. There is a direct correlation between staff wellbeing and patient outcomes. With satisfied team members, there is less attrition. With less attrition there is better and more consistent patient care. A happy workplace boosts mood and productivity. Similarly, employees are happy to come to work when they are passionate about the care that they’re providing and feel supported by the organization. And interesting programming provided by engaged team members leads to better attention/retention of patients and fewer departures against medical advice.
“I believe that a positive workplace culture helps ensure the most positive outcomes for our clients, because the way that staff treats each other is indicative of the way they will treat our clients. When we treat each other with compassion, empathy, and grace this carries over to the way we treat our clients. Good communication and strong purpose are characteristics of a positive workplace culture. These values help our clients to see themselves as valued and supported in their own purpose to achieve sustained recovery.”- Anne Bigger, Registered Nurse
Quality Care Delivery
Quality care factors include ethics, involvement and professionalism, cost and value of care, a commitment to quality care, and strategic thinking.
“Patients in need of our services and care have arrived at a turning point in their lives. We have the privilege and responsibility to assist them in their journey towards success. As care providers, we flourish when we promote a climate of trust, compassion, empathy, and accountability. The close-knit environment at Sanford has allowed us to do more than provide the tools. In fact, we empower our clients by treating them with respect, a positive attitude, and providing them the encouragement they desperately need. Working as a team at Sanford is key to helping our clients achieve the successful outcomes they expect.” Michelle Koets, Registered Nurse
Communication, Transparency, and Exchange of Ideas
Good communication and the exchange of ideas creates respect and trust, at every level of the team. The ability to ask questions, promote ideas or discuss problems is crucial to workplace culture. Meetings, brainstorming sessions, and suggestions are most valuable when staff feels safe and comfortable offering their real opinions and ideas. It’s also important for individuals and teams to work collaboratively. We see this in all of our programs when our medical and clinical teams meet daily/weekly to discuss patient care and transition plans. Communication should be open, with two-way conversations and no judgement. When health care providers influence the organizations’ culture, they have ownership in the quality of care delivered to their patients.
As a growing, multi-facility treatment center, we have an opportunity to cross-train team members. Cross training provides opportunities for continued professional development and education. It also allows different departments to get a better understanding of their colleague’s day-to-day responsibilities. We’ve seen this prevent siloed working environments by improving communication and teamwork across multiple departments. When our nurses get an opportunity to sit with the admissions team and listen to potential patients and their families call looking for help, it gives the nurse a better understanding of where our clients start their journey. Alternatively, when our admissions specialists spend a day with a nurse, they are able to see the compassionate hands-on care our nurses provide and how that directly impacts our patients. It’s important to invest in our teams!
Safe Reporting Systems and Workplace Culture
Safety culture captures attitudes, beliefs, and values about safety. A culture of safety is vital in a behavioral health facility to ensure safe and high-quality care. There must be a strong commitment from leadership and staff to prioritize safety procedures. Consequently, at Sanford, we identify and report patient safety hazards, establish accountability and transparency, value teamwork, and create a close involvement with patients and families.
“People are what facilitate healing more than programs, and in behavioral health more than any other industry, the health of the company culture will either promote or stifle healers and healing.” Jenny Selent, Chief Clinical Officer
Recruitment and Retention
Workplace culture will also affect employee turnover. Unsatisfied employees lead to high turnover rates which creates disruption in the care being provided to patients. When an organization is constantly having to hire and train, employees and teams are not given the opportunity to establish well-working systems, and programming and patient care can suffer.
“In my 30 years of working in health care, I am impressed with my transition to Sanford. I have received nothing but positive encouragement from day one. I came from an environment where your strengths were never acknowledged. A simple thank you was rarely spoken. I have to say it has been culture shock moving to Sanford. I feel I am listened to and my answers are respected. Even after a busy, stressful day, I go home feeling I made a difference. I feel supported both personally and professionally. Additionally, I had been with my previous employer for over 10 years, I was apprehensive about changing positions. But I am glad I came to Sanford.” Amy Boshoven, NP