March-April 2015 | Health

Here for a Reason

As a 58-year-old living with cystic fibrosis, John Sackett has overcome incredible odds. Now, the president of Shady Grove Medical Center wants to make his hospital world class. He may be the right guy to pull it off.

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SACKETT ASKS THE SAME question whenever he talks to new staff: “Do you know what people’s biggest concern is when they come to the hospital?” The wait time, some say. “That we’re gonna treat them like a number, that we’re not gonna recognize the individuality.”

He’s spent enough time in hospitals as a patient to know that small gestures make a difference. He remembers the nurses who seemed to understand that every patient with CF is different, the ones who asked him questions: What time do you go to bed? Do you want extra blankets? When do you like to shower?

There are certain things Sackett can’t yet change about patient care, but wishes he could. He doesn’t like how some people have to get their blood drawn at 4 a.m. so that the results are back before early-morning rounds. He can’t stand the fact that a third of the patients at Shady Grove have to share rooms—if there’s ever a time you want privacy, it’s when you’re sick, he says—but he needs to raise $120 million for renovations and improvements that would include private rooms for everybody. He also wants the hospital to have more private areas for families that are grieving or need to make difficult decisions, like his family did with his sister.

He tells staff that some patients will get angry, especially when they’re in the emergency room, and it’s in that moment that the hospital’s mission—“We demonstrate God’s care by improving the health of people and communities through a ministry of physical, mental and spiritual healing”—comes to life. That’s when patients really need you, Sackett says. Recognize something unique about them. Ask them what name they like to go by. Put a hand on their shoulder. “Jesus almost always touched the people he healed,” he says in orientation.

In his two years at Shady Grove, Sackett has seen an improvement in employee morale.  “When you walk through those doors, since John has been here, it’s just a different feeling,” says John Herbert, Sackett’s respiratory therapist, who’s worked at Shady Grove since 1993. When Sackett’s daughter, Rena, got sick over Thanksgiving weekend this past fall and he brought her to Shady Grove, he met a traveling nurse named Holly. Traveling nurses move from hospital to hospital for temporary positions, and sometimes make more money than full-time employees. “I just want you to know I’ve decided not to travel anymore,” she told Sackett. “I want to be here.”

Patient satisfaction is not easy to measure, but according to data provided by the hospital, since Sackett started in the spring of 2013, emergency department (ED) patients have been more satisfied with their experience at Shady Grove. Although scores fluctuate monthly, in November 2014, the most recent month for which data was available, 91 percent of patients surveyed said they would be likely to recommend the ED. In March 2013, the month before Sackett started, that figure was 61 percent.

For the past two years, Shady Grove has been named a “Top Performer on Key Quality Measures”—in the areas of heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care—by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of health care organizations in the country. Last November, the hospital received a silver award from the Maryland Performance Excellence Awards program, which recognizes organizations with role model performance. “You usually start with a certificate, and next year go to bronze, but we won the silver the first time,” Sackett says. His goal is to get platinum this year, which would make Shady Grove eligible to apply for the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

When he heard about getting the silver award, Sackett told his staff that they needed to celebrate as a hospital. It’s important to make a big deal out of good things that happen, he says. Sackett’s daughter, Rena, often teases him when their family goes out to eat—no matter what restaurant they’re in, he always makes sure they raise their glasses and somebody gives a toast.

Senior editor Cindy Rich can be reached at cindy.rich@bethesdamagazine.com.  For more information about cystic fibrosis, visit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s website at www.cff.org. All photos by Michael Ventura