This summer, an innovative idea was spurred via St. Catherine Hospital’s regular employee engagement survey. Haley Evans — the hospital’s Director of Quality and Patient Safety Officer — said the idea stemmed from how the pandemic has affected care delivery, in ways both big and small. While the bigger issues may sometimes be easier to address as they get the most attention, the smaller issues can compound and chip away at staff morale the longer they go unaddressed. She said the employee’s idea was to help leadership see firsthand the changing circumstances in which they are providing care.
St. Catherine Hospital
“We all know we are in an unprecedented time, seeing things we didn’t think we’d ever see. I don’t know that many of us thought we’d still be in the middle of this years later,” said Evans. “What we were hearing is that employees wanted our executive leadership to know what they were dealing with, what they were doing, how they do it, and why they do what they do.”
What resulted was St. Catherine’s “Suits to Scrubs” initiative, which started in earnest this fall. The idea is for members of the hospital’s executive staff to regularly spend time with each department to see firsthand the current circumstances surrounding care delivery.
“Once a month, each of our eight executive leaders is assigned to an area,” said Evans. “They don’t wear dress clothes — they put on scrubs and spend a half day or a whole day with associates in that area. Some have even done two or three in a month.”
“From an associate’s perspective, I think when you realize that leadership knows and appreciates what you’re doing day-to-day, everything just comes together. And I think, as leaders, we become a little more humble. And I think associates on the front line gain a little more respect, if not a lot more,” Evans said.
“For example, after a couple hours, one of our leaders stopped and said ‘Boy, I’m tired. I don’t know how you do this for 12 hours.’ Just that actualization of what they’re doing and being asked to do, it’s proven to be helpful. The initiative is clearly working and we’re going to continue it.”
Evans said one recent example shows how even seemingly small changes can have a surprisingly larger effect. Like many organizations, St. Catherine Hospital is short staffed, including in their laundry department. Previously, patient gowns were each rolled up and stacked for staff members to quickly grab and hand to a patient. Lately, the gowns have been returned to the floor unfolded.
“Staff members might need to get a gown 30 times or more a day,” Evans said. “And each time, you could reach in and get two gowns, or you could get three falling out. You end up spending time on that instead of focused on the patient, and it’s messy.”
Evans continued: “A nurse pointed that out (to an executive on a Suits to Scrubs visit), and in less than 24 hours we found a way to have our door screeners roll gowns while they were waiting to scan visitors to the facility. The care members were all happy to not have to dig through a bag to get a gown for a patient. And it was a win for the screeners as well – they were quite happy to help. It’s maybe a small thing, but a huge team connection was formed that might never have happened without that interaction with leadership.”
After each shift in scrubs, executives send feedback and questions to the department’s staff — opening an avenue for discussion about where and how improvements might be made. So far, changes have been perhaps small, but Evans said the initiative has shown how much even small changes can matter a lot.
“Such simple things can change your day,” Evans said. “It kind of illustrates the state of the pandemic that we’re now happy with things like rolled gowns.”
Evans said that some days staff don’t have “the time, energy, or umpf” to fix processes they see going wrong. She said the Suits to Scrubs initiative has proven a good way to identify issues and create solutions, allowing staff to better take care of their patients.
— November 2021