Staff Engagement

Milford Regional Medical Center Takes a Holistic Approach to Caring for Patients and Staff

Bert Thurlo-Walsh, R.N.
Chief Quality Officer & Vice President
Milford Regional Medical Center
Milford, Massachusetts

Editor’s note: In this story, Chief Quality Officer and Vice President Bert Thurlow-Walsh, R.N., responds to a question about what his organization, Milford Regional Medical Center in Massachusetts, is doing to improve employees’ experiences, address burnout and grow the workforce. Milford’s holistic approach to addressing issues means that Thurlow-Walsh collaborates with other leaders at the hospital to engage with patients and staff members to provide the best possible experience for all. A good example of that is Milford’s Engagement and Experience Work Group, which addresses staff engagement, patient experience and service excellence together, not in silos. This story first appeared in July in Patient Safety Beat, the digital newsletter of the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety.

At Milford Regional, we’re working on many fronts to respond to the needs of our clinicians and staff as they cope with persistently high workloads and the long-term stress of the pandemic. One of those efforts is to redesign and relaunch our Peers-Supporting-Peers Program, which in the past focused on the frontline: physicians, nurses, physical therapists and other clinicians.

We are preparing to expand the program across our workforce and want to be sensitive to their cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Working with the Betsy Lehman Center, Milford’s Director of Care Management, Chief Medical Officer and I have held focus groups with people in our environmental services, dietary, nursing assistance and transport groups to examine peer support from a perspective of diversity and inclusion. For example, working with an interpreter, we have talked with our Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking staff to learn how they define support.

We’re also creating an Engagement and Experience Work Group focused on staff engagement, patient experience and service excellence, bringing the three together in a holistic approach. I will help lead the group, together with the Director of Quality, Patient Safety and Experience; the Director of Human Resources; and the Vice President of Human Resources, who is the group’s executive sponsor. We’ll also have members representing frontline staff, patients and family members. This group, too, will address diversity, equity and inclusion from a staff and patient perspective.

Measuring staff engagement and resilience has proven useful

We started measuring staff engagement and resilience — the burnout component — in 2019 using a tool from Press Ganey, in addition to their safety culture survey. And to get an idea of where we stood, we did a modified pulse safety-culture survey in August 2021. We wanted to know what our staff thought about our performance in the middle of this pandemic. It was both helpful and encouraging. Although our scores slipped in some domains, our staff reported being less hesitant to report safety problems — a positive sign of staff engagement. We will survey staff again in September on engagement and resilience and bring the results to the Engagement and Experience Work Group to discuss where to go from here.

Digital tools offer team-building incentives

On a different level, we offer an employee assistance program for individual referrals as well as digital tools, including a resource called Ginger, which provides confidential mental health support on demand. As an alternative to the EAP, staff can use the Ginger app on their phone or their watch to reach a counselor 24/7. Our human resources department also offers an online program and app called Wellable,which supports staff wellbeing through stress reduction tips and exercise challenges, with raffles and positive team-building incentives. And, last, our HR team sends emails on a regular basis with inspirational quotes in a program called Kindness Counts, focusing in on the question, “How can we be kind to each other?”

Reflecting on the past couple of years, I want to say that our quality and safety team has been phenomenal. Early in the pandemic, we opened a community vaccine clinic here on campus, led by our Director of Quality, Patient Safety and Experience. Our quality nurses helped get over 13,000 doses into staff and community members. In addition, we worked with the housing authorities in Milford, Hopedale and Franklin to vaccinate people who weren’t able to travel. Our quality and safety colleagues kept close tabs on each other during that time as they stepped up to do whatever was needed.

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