When Disaster Strikes, Preparation and Teamwork Pay Off


by Cinda Daly, with David Wendt and Amy Holmes


When Hurricane Katrina crashed upon the Gulf Coast in 2005, the IS organization at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, operated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System (FMOLHS), sprang into full disaster mode, mustering the troops in its Baton Rouge data center to keep the hospital running and the data and communications flowing. In the summer of 2008, with the devastation in New Orleans fresh in everyone’s memories, reconstruction barely underway, and economic recovery still over the horizon, Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Coast. FMOLHS’s now-consolidated IS team mustered resources again, this time with improved processes and equipment, yet that storm was much more devastating to the hospital system than Katrina.

Fast forward to 2013 when the FMOLHS team won the HDI Team Excellence Award (Internal), an award that, for more than twenty years, has been honoring world-class support organizations that deliver unparalleled customer service and technical support. FMOLHS is an amazing team with an inspiring leader. Take a look.


Cinda Daly: Tell us about these devastating hurricanes.

David Wendt: In Louisiana, hurricanes happen to be our most frequent challenge. In Kansas, it could be a tornado; in California, it could be an earthquake. The thing about a hurricane, versus a tornado or an earthquake, is that you have time to prepare. We review our plans every year, adjust wherever necessary, and begin our preseason prep in March so that we’re ready when hurricane season begins on June 1.

Daly: What drives the focus during that preseason preparation and planning time?

Wendt: First and foremost, we all believe that we’re working for the greater good, for our patients and families. Our communities expect that from us. We plan for a storm, but how we react to that storm is key. After every event, within two to three days, we go through the lessons learned. In March, we review our readiness plan, and even the best-laid plans are adjusted.

Daly: How would you characterize your team’s readiness for hurricane season?

Amy Holmes: Our team gets a lot of practice, and we have a lot of people who’ve gone through hurricane season in the past. During prep time, the team learns everything they need to know; they hear it again in June, and again every time a hurricane churns into the Gulf.

Part of the prep involves lining up the teams and shifts. They’re planning on leaving their homes and families for an unknown period of time, and everyone needs to get their minds wrapped around their responsibilities. Team A knows to start getting their families ready in case a storm actually does head our way. Team B knows they’ll have to come in immediately after the storm to relieve Team A.

Many people volunteer for storm duty. They’re committed to doing everything in their power to get to the hospital to help cover the load, or cover for someone who loses a home or just can’t make it in. We believe we get that level of commitment from our team because we’re a mission-driven organization.

Daly: What’s it like in the days leading up to a storm?

Wendt: When the entire process kicks into high gear, our whole system gets involved. The hospital stocks up on medicine, food, and supplies. The IS organization stocks up on the basics, makes sure key vendors are aware of the situation, and notifies the remote disaster recovery site. When it’s time to act, team members report for duty with sleeping bags, air mattresses, and clean clothes, hoping for a cold shower in the health club along the way.

Daly: How did your disaster recovery and business continuity processes change between Katrina and Gustav?

Wendt: When Katrina hit, I was the clinical service information service director in our Baton Rouge location. We had decentralized IT systems. We had back-tapes that we had to drive to Atlanta because our “Fly Team” couldn’t get a flight. We were on the power grid with two separate feeds, and we had generators. During Gustav, we were without power for an extended period of time, and we only had generators for key areas, like the data center and a limited number of red outlets in the patient care areas.

Today, we back up key systems to our Colorado data center in real time, so we’re ready to be switched over in an instant. Our electronic medical records system is hosted remotely by the vendor in a high-level data center. We have whole-house generators, redundant systems, and a self-sustaining environment. It’s been a significant investment.

Daly: What features of the team’s experience during Gustav stuck with you?

Holmes: First, the commitment of the team, who were all on-site during the storm. They leave their families behind for 24–48 hours, and they have no way of knowing if their homes have been damaged by falling trees or overtaken by floodwaters, or even if they’ll be able to get home at the end of their shifts. We support our team members. That’s part of our mission. It’s a powerful group experience, and it’s a great feeling to be a part of this team.

Wendt: I share Amy’s feelings. Then, there are also the realities we face during the storm. That’s where preparation and teamwork really take over. Losing communication and air conditioning have proven to be two of our biggest risks. We run all of our hospitals out of the Baton Rouge data center, and although we do have redundancies to keep our systems running, the rains from Gustav flooded the switches outside the hospital and we suddenly found ourselves with just one communication line. When we lost air conditioning, the on-site A/C guys went out in the storm to fix it. In the meantime, we had to install portable A/Cs in the network closets to try to keep the temperatures down, and we monitored the closet temperatures hourly. Eventually, we started turning off nonessential systems to manage the heat.

Daly: How long did you have to keep emergency teams and processes in place?

Holmes: The teams stayed in place for about 36 hours, but we kept the command center open 24 hours a day for over a week. We had trouble transitioning off generator power because of an uninterrupted power supply issue. Even though the data center’s A/C was working, the hospital’s A/C lost power; it was off for long enough that we were facing evacuation. We couldn’t let the generator shut down, so fuel trucks had to keep topping off the generators until the UPS issue could be resolved and we could return to normal operations.

Daly: It would have been extremely difficult to pull off these feats had your team not already been fully committed and engaged in your organization’s mission.

Holmes: We set expectations for that level of service, commitment, and engagement, and our team delivers. When they report for work during a disaster, they could be called on to do anything, whether it’s mopping a floor or serving food to patients. That expectation is set from day one, during the onboarding process. Once you’re in the IS organization, you’re part of the greater mission we’re all working toward. As a leader, it’s a good feeling, knowing that your team performs to that level.

Wendt: I want to be the best at everything I do; I don’t want to be second best. Amy holds her team to that same standard, and I expect that from all the leaders on my team. Let’s serve our customers. Let’s meet our service level agreements. Let’s do the very best we can, and if you can’t deliver at that level, we need someone else on the team.

Daly: This level of commitment and teamwork seems to permeate everything you do.

Wendt: Our employees exemplify teamwork every time they support one another, during storms and every day in between. We strive to identify individual employee strengths and let our stronger employees mentor others to improve overall team performance.

Holmes: Our leaders recognize that our team members are the experts on what they need, what makes sense in their environments, what’s working, and what isn’t. We operate as if our leaders work for the team instead of the team working for our leaders.

Daly: Let’s fast forward. Why do you think you won the HDI Team Excellence Award (Internal)?

Holmes: Setting up a consolidated IS division in the health system was a real challenge. Since then, thanks to Meaningful Use driving physician engagement, we’ve been able to enhance our toolset, establish real service levels that we strive to meet and exceed, make several process improvements, and streamline training and analyst accountability. HDI was a great source of information for helping us create and implement our strategy. We finally got to a point where we really knew what we needed to do and had an executable strategy that we could track and continually improve.

Wendt: To know whether you’ve achieved success, you have to measure it. Amy set some great standards; we share those so that everyone knows what we’re going to accomplish. But I can’t expect Amy to hold her team to a ten-second ASA if I can’t measure it. When we get complaints, we can look at the individual metrics; if someone is rude, we can pull up the recording, assess it, and remedy the situation.

Holmes: We had applied for the HDI Team Excellence Award once before, and we didn’t make it to the second round. We held to our path, though, and continued to mature and develop our team and our processes. We applied again, and this time we made the cut. In the live interview phase of judging, one of our analysts, a supervisor, and a manager shared the things they were proud of, the things that had helped them be successful—things that other organizations across the industry, not just in health care, wish they could do and do as well.

Wendt: Winning the award was a by-product of doing what we need to be doing anyway. We don’t want to do anything special to win an award. We’re committed to a high standard all the time, and our team members get that. That said, the team’s excellence really shines when we win these awards, and it feels great to win.

Daly: I suspect that this work climate influences employee satisfaction, in a good way.

Wendt: It’s interesting. I always thought that the support center would be a jumping-off point for team members to move into other areas, like desktop support. The opposite has actually happened. I think this is unique. We have multiple facilities that run different programs and work in different ways, so the local teams only work on local issues. The support center handles a broader array of problems that cut across facilities and functions, which creates greater variety. They’re on the tip of the spear, making contact with many people.

Holmes: This variety also gives our people plenty of opportunity to grow. All of our analysts are trained and are expected to have the same skillsets when it comes to assisting customers. Performance standards are high, but employee satisfaction is higher.

 


An Inside Look at the FMOLHS Support Center

Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System has been caring for the people of Louisiana for more than 100 years. As the largest healthcare system in the state, FMOLHS provides medical care and community services to more than half of the state's population, via a network of sponsored hospitals, subsidiaries, and affiliates.

The IT organization’s goal is to enable FMOLHS facilities to provide high-quality patient care, and to assist in carrying out the system's overall mission. The support center's twenty-seven analysts--many of whom work remote at least part-time--serve approximately 13,000 internal team members and 8,000 contractors. These customers, including corporate and back-office staff as well as clinical staff (nurses and physicians), are spread across eight hospitals, 115 clinics, and many ancillary locations (long-term care facilities, surgery centers, etc.).

In a nutshell:

  • IS staff are available 24x7x365 because the hospitals don't close.
  • The support center operates with a blended (level 1 and level 2) support team, and they take approximately 97,000 calls annually. 
  • Employee satisfaction scores are in Press Ganey’s top tier. 
  • The support center is represented on the change advisory board (two voting members). 
  • In several key metrics, the support center has exceeded its stretch goals: 
    • Customer satisfaction: 4.8 out of 5 
    • First call resolution: 79% 
    • Average speed to answer (physician queue): 11 seconds 
    • Average speed to answer (main queue): 43 seconds 
    • Overall quality: 91% 

 

Cinda Daly is the CEO and chief content strategist for Focus Events, where she brings her career achievements as an impact player in content strategy, marketing, customer service, and events to enterprise clients. Her current projects include a variety of initiatives in global event management, online media, and community building, all built on a foundation of high-quality editorial content, customer advocacy, and knowledge sharing.

Tag(s): business continuity, business continuity planning, disaster recovery, teamwork, supportworld

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