Posts Tagged ‘Hospitals’

Going “Rogue” – An Open Letter to Healthcare CEOs

October 17th, 2011

For the past three years, I have had a chance to dig heavily into the future, and I’m pretty convinced that the old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” has never been more true than in today’s healthcare environment.  What was a given before in healthcare management may no longer be so in the future, and since most hospitals only Chief Innovation Officer is the President him or herself, their tasks of visualizing, understanding, deciding and directing the future of the organization will be shifting even more heavily from quantitative deciding-and-directing to the more qualitative visualizing-and-understanding side of this leadership equation.

Although I understand the reluctance of most CEO’s to be on the bleeding edge of creativity, my experiences at my former positions can significantly reduce or mitigate the majority of risk from any decision regarding innovation.

Our new competitive environment has an insatiable appetite for information, access and connectivity and it’s a well known fact that a periodic injection of chaos fosters creativity and forces your co-workers to leverage technology.   Because most organizations already have an environment that is built on trust and collaboration, injecting a little creativity can put their CEOs in more of a position to be the orchestrator and the inspirer.

That Used to be Us That Used to be Us is the new book by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in which they analyze four specific challenges Americans face as a nation—globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and our pattern of excessive energy consumption—and spell out what they believe needs to be done to sustain the American dream, and achieve true supremacy based on innovation and excellence.

As an innovator and futurist,  several sections of this book captured my imagination and brought closure to a myriad of beliefs that I have instinctively embraced over the past few decades.  When my responsibilities revolved around the CEO position, I always saw my job as being a contributor to an environment where creative decisions were embraced allowed to happen and then those innovators were rewarded and inspired to keep going.

As the co-founder of a Research Institute, one issue that continually resonates with me is that  “We don’t have enough ‘rogue’ CEO’s in healthcare administration to take risks so that the rest can benefit from both their successes and knowledge.”

Well, fortunately, I’m your guy.

For the last several years I have been out there implementing unusual things, and many of these disruptive ideas are coming to pass in a big way.  I was the first hospital CEO to blog, starting in 2005 (, was an early Planetree board member, created the first breast cancer research center dedicated to the Department of Defense, and filled my hospital with Integrative Medicine, hotel amenities, and music.

Below, I’ve listed thirteen new examples of areas of innovation, in which we’ve been working for the past three years, as well as numerous ways to pay for these initiatives.

 Thirteen Examples of Disruptive Technologies and Practices That Hospitals Need to Understand 

  1. Robotic algorithmic software that improves emergency room flow by 37 to 50 percent.
  2. Financial transaction software that reduces electronic transfer fees exponentially (25% of health care income is from electronic transfers.)
  3. Utilization of nurses and actuaries as patient advocates to significantly reduce your employee health costs.
  4. Preventative medicine reimbursements that can double a physician’s income and add bottom line profits to hospitals.
  5. Treble growth potential of your organization through adding Integrative Medicine
  6. Diabetic retinopathy telemedicine for Family and Internal Medicine docs.
  7. Proteomic and genomic testing creating new “hospital income.”
  8. Peritoneal lavage that extends Stage 4 cancer patients from three months to five years or more.
  9. Bone scaffolding that supports bone growth and virtually eliminates bone infection.
  10. Special bandages that protect and stem cell cocktail sprays that heal burn wounds
  11.  Access to a cancer consortium that allows small and medium hospitals to become Certified Cancer Centers
  12. Hospitals paid “not to play” during an energy crisis as a back-up to the power grid.
  13. Green hazardous waste disposal costing 25% less than traditional methods

If you’d like to learn more about any adopting any of the concepts above, or receive a leadership presentation that will enable your staff to see the opportunities (rather than just the threats) in our current, uncertain environment, here’s where to find me.

Why Are Hospitals The Way They Are? from Nick Jacobs, FACHE on Vimeo.


The Alpha and Omega of Healthcare in the United States

August 27th, 2011

While serving as a hospital administrator for over twenty years, I was aware of numerous people who had died in the emergency room because they had no insurance, had not yet qualified for Medicaid and were terrified that the cost of care would force them to live on the street.  Consequently, they waited too long to come in for treatment, and they died.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-W) and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-VT) - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing HospitalsModern Healthcare’s August 22nd edition has listed the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare in 2011. (Somehow they’ve missed me again.)  They’ve listed Republican  Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the number one most influential person, and the Democratic Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, as number two. Ryan is interested in a complete re-make of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and Shumlin wants to move the citizens of the State of Vermont to a government-run, single-payer system.

Needless to say, these are very different views. It’s interesting that they both agree that employer-based insurance should be eliminated, so that neither portability nor employment is an issue. They differ in that Ryan believes that each individual citizen should receive a refundable tax credit for healthcare and that providers should compete based upon quality, price and outcomes. Shumlin, on the other hand, wants to do away with “fee for service healthcare,” but clearly understands the American’s public’s concern about government-run anything, and even says, “Government has gotten it wrong, every single time.”

According to Modern Healthcare, both want to fix the system that is bankrupting the nation. Ryan wants to “maintain a world class system built on innovation and excellence,” while Shumlin wants that single payer system to eliminate waste, administrative overhead and insurance company profits. It is Shumlin’s contention that enacting all of the Tea Party cuts and taxing the wealthy would still lead to the same federal budget challenges in the trillions of dollars that we face now.

Ryan wants to cut $750 billion in Medicare spending by making the allocation a block grant. People like Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO- affiliated National Nurses United labor union say, “The market isn’t magic and it doesn’t trickle down…the Paul Ryans of the world don’t want a society.  They want individuals and corporations to make ungodly amounts of money.”

And so the debate continues. There is no magic elixir that will fix this without huge disagreements and turf battles.  As the Obama legislation began to unfold, the initial reaction from many within his own party was that his administration had “sold out” to Big Pharma and numerous other lobbies, and, as the Republican plan continued to be unveiled, the response was similar to DeMoro’s, because it was so heavily skewed toward big business and the free market, while providing only marginal assistance for the underserved of this nation.

UPMC vs. Highmark (Illustration by Ted Crow, Post-Gazette) - Nick Jacobs, FACHEIronically, as I look out my window and then drive a block from my apartment in Pittsburgh, I see another new “colony” of homeless people living under the bridge, and as I round the corner under Route 279N, there is a virtual apartment building under that road comprised of sheets and blankets hung to create separate partitions for the individual homeless people to live. At the next light leading to the North Side, a 30ish young mom begs on the corner for money for her kids, and two blocks past her is a homeless Veteran asking for money as well.

In the midst of all of this, the $9 billion UPMC battle with the nearly $4 billion Highmark juggernaut continues over an insurance company owning a hospital, and a hospital owning an insurance company.  Surely, in the richest country in the world, there are answers to these challenges that do not bankrupt the pharmaceutical or insurance companies, do not make our physicians second class citizens, and do not close two thousand small and medium sized hospitals while still providing care for everyone.


The Smurfs and Culture

July 29th, 2011

The other day, I was imagining a conversation between our U.S. elected officials about the Smurfs.  On one side of the aisle, the rhetoric would go something like this: “I believe that Poppa Smurf  represents Karl Marx. He is not the leader of the Smurfs but an equal who is admired by the others for his age and wisdom.”  Then they might say, “And Brainy Smurf represents Trotsky, as he is the only one who comes close to matching Papa’s intellect.  He wears round glasses, is often isolated, ridiculed for being too professorial and is even ejected from the village for his ideas.”

Photo Credit: AP/Richard Drew

Furthermore they might add, “The smurfs don’t have private property, have adopted a collective-style economy and no individual Smurf is represented as either superior or inferior to others.” Someone would yell out, “They probably even have healthcare for everyone!” Consequently, the conclusion from one side of the aisle would be that the Smurfs are Socialists and are destroying the fabric of our society.

Then the other side might say something like: “Gargamel represents capitalism and embodies all the negative attributes associated with that economic system, such as greed, ruthlessness and the pursuit of personal gratification.”  “Gargamel is the quintessential symbol of Wall Street and will take his billions in tax cuts but never create even one job,” this side would say. At the same time, they might surmise that, “Azrael represents the worker in the ruthless, free-market state that is Gargamel’s house, and his union must be busted!”  Their final conclusion would be that, “The wealthy are taking all of our money and destroying the middle class.”

Is it any wonder we can’t get a debt ceiling bill?

One of my last professional trumpet playing jobs, “Smurfs on Ice,” was nearly 25 years ago. So, Brainy, Jokey, Grouchy, Greedy, and Stinky were all part of my early years, and now they are coming back, but the world is not the same!  So, be careful Smurfettes. Don’t invest in the market, real estate or dot.coms.  Try to avoid those outrageous credit card interest rates.  Don’t, whatever you do, don’t believe what the heads of the big banks and insurance companies are saying, and, for goodness sakes, buy gold, or maybe buy precious blue stuff.

When I was a kid, I was on journey to learn. So, when my dad bought me a box of vocabulary words and helped me learn ten new words every night, it wasn’t because he wanted us to grow up and be rich.  To him, the most important thing that he could do for his children was to make sure that they got an education.  He was all about the awareness that comes from exposure to information.

It started for me as a simple challenge to read the Bobbsey Twins books, and then the Hardy Boys, and from there, works by Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, Roth, Hemmingway and Tolstoy. Going through life without all of these friends would have been an empty and lonely journey. I’ll never forget when my brother, a young teacher at the time, introduced me to his classical record collection.  Yes, I was a trumpet player, but when I discovered Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Brahms, Handel, Stravinsky, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Bartok and Sibelius, my life was changed forever.  Between the written word and the music, the mysteries, joys, challenges and humanness that is life became more apparent to me every day.

We have migrated away from anything but basic education and our favorite pastimes are video games, celebrity magazines and reality TV shows. Maybe that’s why we seem to have lost our way in this country.  We no longer embrace a culture of open mindedness, understanding and compromise.  Is it any wonder our U.S. Representatives can’t work together?  Maybe they are simply unenlightened…Maybe they all need to spend some time with the Smurfs and read a few blue books.


Treating People With Dignity

June 9th, 2011

As part of my continuing series of anti-bullying blog posts, this week’s post was inspired by a WDUQ/NPR interview of the authors of a book entitled: Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training. It was written by Jack Colwell, a police veteran and trainer, and Chip Huth, who heads a SWAT team for the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. The interview was inspired by the Pittsburgh police beating of CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) student Jordan Miles, a who hadn’t done anything wrong. The interviewer stated that this beating, and the subsequent ruling regarding its legality, has seriously eroded the support of law-abiding citizens in the African American community and beyond toward the Pittsburgh Police.

CAPA student Jordan Miles and his mother, Terez

CAPA student Jordan Miles and his mother, Terez | Photo credit: Justin Merriman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Why, in a healthcare blog, would I select this topic? It is my firm belief that treating people with respect and dignity, regardless of the situation, leads to a more harmonious environment. Chip Huth, one of the two authors interviewed by WDUQ,  commented that the he believes that the Kansas City police force’s policy of holding meetings that allow community members to express their points of view and to feel understood may open them up to understanding the police point of view. He went on to say that “after a SWAT raid…when the situation is secure, his teams sit down with the suspects and explain the terms of the search warrant, answer questions, advise of rights, etc.” Convicted felons heading off to jail have told him how much they respect the way his team treated their families.

So, read between the lines. It’s not any different from healthcare work when it comes to “Treating People With Respect and Dignity.” It is what it is, and that care and treatment must transcend all races, colors and creeds. More importantly, it crosses all professions. By analogy, think of us as the SWAT (caregiving) team. We break into your life and scare you. It’s a well known fact that those individuals who are most often sued in healthcare are those with the weakest interpersonal skills  and worst “bedside manner.” They are often mean, curt or simply uncaring in their attitude and responses. Or else they make sure that they just don’t communicate at all with the family or patient.

Not so many years ago, I was taken to task by a group of physicians who were upset because I had written an article about those docs “who make rounds before the families are present and the patient is awake.” The good docs were indignant — and in some cases rightfully so — because they were communicators, but the “bullies” that I targeted, who were not patient centered, came at me from all directions: letters, phone calls, and attempts to have me censured by my hospital’s board. It really reminded me of the often-paraphrased Shakespearean line, “methinks he doth  protest too much.” If they were truly “caregivers,” and not technical health scientists, they would want to communicate with the patients and their families, to answer their questions, to help them understand what is happening (or about to happen) to them, and they would be sensitive so as to ensure that the fears being expressed by those involved were ameliorated about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

If the SWAT team can kick in your door, throw in flash grenades, tie your hands behind your back, and arrest you, but take the time to heat the baby’s milk and explain to everyone involved what exactly is going on and what to expect, there will be a marked difference in response from those who are being impacted by their work. A hospital does not attain 98 or 99% patient satisfaction scores by ignoring patients and their families, treating the employees and administrators like they are minions and ignoring the kindness and respect that should be part of their jobs.

Respect - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - healthcare - anti-bullying - Healing Hospitals

Okay, I’m done. Like Aretha Franklin sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me.” Look up the Jordan Miles story online, or better still, buy the Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect book and see what can happen when you treat people with dignity.


Excerpts and Opinions on “What Makes a Hospital Great?”

March 17th, 2011

Dr. Pauline W. Chen’s March 17th New York Times article answers the question, “What Makes a Hospital Great?” In this article, Dr. Chen finds:

Dr. Pauline W. Chen - surgeon & New York Times contributor - Nick Jacobs, FACHE

Pauline W. Chen, MD | Blog:

“Hospitals have long vied for the greatest clinical reputation. Recent efforts to increase public accountability by publishing hospital results have added a statistical dimension to this battle of the health care titans. Information from most hospitals on mortality rates, readmissions and patient satisfaction is readily available on the Internet. A quick click of the green ‘compare’ button on the ‘Hospital Compare’ Web site operated by the Department of Health and Human Services gives any potential patient, or competitor, side-by-side lists of statistics from rival institutions that leaves little to the imagination. The upside of such transparency is that hospitals all over the country are eager to improve their patient outcomes. The downside is that no one really knows how.”

I’ve written often about the failed promise of technology alone, and this is reaffirmed in Dr. Chen’s findings:

“…hospitals have made huge investments in the latest and greatest in clinical care — efficient electronic medical records systems, ‘superstar’ physicians and world-class rehabilitation services. Nonetheless, large discrepancies persist between the highest and lowest-performing institutions, even with one of the starkest of the available statistics: patient deaths from heart attacks.”

As she asks why this is,  the answers have become relatively clear from a study that was released in the Annals of Internal Medicine this very week. This research indicated that it was not the expensive equipment, the evidence-based protocols, or the beautiful Ritz Carlton-like buildings. It was, instead, the culture of the organization.

Hosptials in both the top and bottom five  percent in heart attack mortality rates were queried by the study team. One hundred fifty interviews with administrators, doctors and other health care workers found that the key to good (or bad) care was “a cohesive organizational vision that focused on communication and support of all efforts to improve care.”

Elizabeth H. Bradley, Phd, Yale School of Public Health

Elizabeth H. Bradley, Phd, Yale Global Health Leadership Institute

“It’s how people communicate, the level of support and the organizational culture that trump any single intervention or any single strategy that hospitals frequently adopt,” said Elizabeth H. Bradley, Senior Author and Faculty Director of Yale University’s Global Health Leadership Institute.

So, it wasn’t the affiliation with an academic medical center, whether patients were wealthy or indigent, bed size, or rural vs. urban settings that mattered in hospital mortality rates. Rather, it was the way that patient care issues were challenged that made the difference. The physicians and leaders at top-performing hospitals aggressively go after errors. They acknowledge them, and do not criticize each other. Instead, they work together to identify the sources of problems, and to fix them.

One of the most telling findings in this study was that relationships inside the hospital are primary, and the physicians and staff must be committed to making things work. Dr. Bradley said. “It isn’t expensive and it isn’t rocket science, but it requires a real commitment from everyone.”

So, the next time that you select a hospital, look up its statistics, and I guarantee you that you will be surprised. When it comes to outcomes, to nurturing or even competent care, the biggest is not always the best.

Learn More:


Finding the Cure…for Bullying

January 21st, 2011

No workplace bullying - Nick Jacobs - healinghospitals.comThis week, NBC’s Today Show featured another story about bullying. As I have have mentioned in previous posts here and elsewhere, I believe that bullying is the quintessential cancer on our lives in places of business, in the military, politics, and relationships of all types.  The good news – actually the very good news –  is that there has been some incredible work being performed on this topic through the efforts of Dr. Matt Masiello at my former place of employment, the Windber Research Institute in Windber, PA.  Grants through the Highmark Blue Cross Foundation of Pittsburgh have fueled this initial effort and the academic and quantitative analysis being done by Clemson University has documented this work.  I believe that this joint effort is a magnificent  example of what can be done to change the future course of events currently being controlled by bullies.

The Today Show story that I saw featured the Massachusetts school where, due to cyber-bullying, a young girl committed suicide last year.  Apparently, another girl is now having the same experience at the same school. With the help of programs like this comprehensive anti-bullying program, the former Secretary of Education from PA, Jerry Zahorchak, (now Superintendent of the Allentown PA school system), embraced the effort to quell and discourage this type of destructive behavior.  And the program, under the direction of Dr. Matt Masiello has successfully been introduced across the  entire State of PA. (Matt had started the Allegheny County’s Goods for Guns program in 1994, when he was the head of pediatric intensive care at Allegheny General Hospital. To date, this program is responsible for collecting more than 11,000 illegal guns from the streets of Pittsburgh.) Matt has had the same success with this anti-bullying program. Now, both Massachusetts and Maryland are looking into embracing this effort.

This anti-bullying program is based on a European program with which Dr. Masiello had become familiar.  This is a school system-wide effort that is very well documented and results in tremendous awareness and reduction of bullying at all grade levels.

The trainers bring a group of teachers and administrators together in the school system, and then “train the trainers” as to how this effort can become part of the philosophy of the school.  They start the training in the spring, typically launch the school wide effort in the fall and run it for at least a year. During that time, detailed records are kept measuring outcomes.

Matt Masiello, MD - Windber Research Institute - Nick Jacobs - Taking the Hell OUt of Healthcare

Matt Masiello, MD

Matt is a wonderful physician, a truly giving person and a saint of a man who is the only U.S. representative on the board of the World Health Organization’s Health Promoting Hospitals program. I hired him before I left Windber Research Institute, and he has worked tirelessly to address both this problem and the problems of childhood obesity.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program ( on the web, @Olweus on Twitter) has impacted more than 400 school districts and 20% of all school-aged children in Pennsylvania. It has also had up to a 50% reduction in student reports of bullying …and bullying others.

For more information, please contact me or Dr. Matthew Masiello at the Windber Research Institute.

Michael & Marisa’s anti-bullying song – “The Same”


Making Sense of Tucson

January 11th, 2011

It was 1991 when one of  my professors at Carnegie Mellon University began discussing health policy in the United States.  He told us about Arizona, where the state government had decided to stop paying for transplants.  Then he went on to explain that desperate families were moving from Arizona to Pittsburgh, just so they could establish residency in Pennsylvania, and their loved one could receive a transplant.

At around that same time, an outspoken politician from Colorado, former Governor Richard Lamm, who ran for President of the United States on the Reform Party, described the travesty of Medicare vs. Medicaid.   He described the older generation as committing “generational murder” because, even though many times there was no hope  for their survival, for extending their life or for having any quality to their life, we, as a nation, spend 60% of our Medicare dollars on the last  30 or so days of life.  He advocated being honest and allowing people to decide if they wanted palliative care.

What he also pointed out was that, as a country, we continue to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrial world. The reason, he theorized, was because the seniors voted and the young mothers didn’t and no politician would dare vote against that senior coalition.  (This is not about death panels, it is about honesty in healthcare. It is about transparency and explaining the facts to the families so that they could make rational decisions.) None of his words were well received, but nevertheless, they were filled with candor and embraced very difficult ethical views.

Giffords Tucson tragedy - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals

The bottom line?  It is a very sad situation when we have to, in effect, sentence people to death at any age because resources are not available to save them, but this is emphatically not about rationing of care, because rationing infers giving everyone a little less.  This is about making a government decision to take away everything. So, this is about making rational  resource allocation, not based upon the number of votes needed to get re-elected, but based on the value of a life at any and all ages.

Finally, the elephant in the room?  Those people killed and wounded in Arizona were killed and wounded because of a man who is most likely mentally ill.  We, as a country, must begin to address this mental health issue with parity, with commitment and without judgment.  No family is without some member who is suffering from some mental health issue, but  this discussion is still ignored, hidden or buried.

So, when the pundits ask if it is about the rhetoric? We don’t know. When they ask if it is about the availability of weapons and ammunition?  The answer seems to fall under that same category. BUT, when the question is properly directed toward mental health?  The answer seems to be absolutely, yes without a doubt.

During this time of reflection, let’s get serious about the very real and very big challenges that this nation faces. We must, as a nation, take these challenges head-on and deal with “problem solving,” and if this Congress does not begin to take action and begin to solve problems, then we must vote again in May and November to continue to make our voices heard.

Unless we can begin to talk with each other with dignity and respect, we will not make progress.  Until we begin to respect the other person’s point of view and understand that debates are healthy again, we will not make progress. Our leaders need to debate, but at the end of that debate, it is essential that they walk out of the room together and agree that they are all here to do a job, and that job is to solve problems.

My heart goes out to all of those families who were impacted by this awful tragedy.


Engage With Grace

November 26th, 2010

Excerpts from: Chapter 18 of  Taking the Hell out of Healthcare

by Nick Jacobs

When Dying is Finally Enough

The Dichotomy of Death

On Thursday evenings from 1970 until 1975 there was a standing invitation to play pool at Jim’s Dad’s house.  Now, the truth of the matter was that, as young school teachers, most of us barely owned houses, let alone a pool table, so one of my colleagues parents’ opened their home to allow us to have some safe recreation. During those innocent days of my mid twenties, many of the world’s problems were solved. Jim’s father was a wise old philosopher in his early sixties,  a retired coal miner who loved to be around the kids.

One night, we began discussing religion, faith, and death as we mechanically yelled out lines like “16 in the side pocket.”  The discussion became particularly heated when it came to hypocrisy of our healthcare system. We kids or at least this kid listened in amazement as old Carl explained how life was in the old days. His relatives from the old country had salves and ointments, herbs and mustard plasters that took care of virtually every ailment known to man, and when they failed and death was inevitable, death was accepted. He used to laugh and say, “But now, everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

It was then that the subject changed to today where there was truly a cure for nearly everything, or so it seemed at age 23.  Get sick? Take a pill or get a shot. But then, a few weeks earlier, my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was given less than a three percent chance of survival. As Carl and I discussed this situation, he put his arm on my shoulder, and wished me luck. At 58, my dad was still a young man, and neither my education, my prayers, nor my love would be able to save him.

The American way of death seems to be that death is not acceptable at any age, at any time or for any reason. Death is rarely seen as the inevitable future that we all face. Our American system of death is that it should not  happen. Death is no longer accepted as part of life. Oh, yes, we hear those words, but when it is our loved one, they are very difficult to embrace or articulate.

Our medical schools, our nursing schools, our technology schools train  our students in most cases that death is failure. This is why we have a system of health care that is crumbling under our very eyes. Through drugs, machines, and other advances, we have the ability to allow individuals to live longer than ever in the history of mankind. It is absolute reality that more people will have an opportunity to live longer than 100 years of age than ever in history, but at what cost, and with what degree of quality?

Engage With Grace - The One Slide - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals - Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare

Because of our culture, we fight death until we are shocked by it, and the result is that we, as families miss the wonderful opportunity to allow our loved one a peaceful, beautiful, comforting transition.

Palliative care, a.k.a., hospice care, provides that transition.  In a hospice program, we experience love in all forms until death. Hospice provides a womb-like environment where love can replace fear, where family can be the center of that love, and where the transition can be a beautiful, healing journey for everyone involved so that it becomes a peaceful transition.

What Can You Do?

Do your personal homework. Begin to talk to your loved ones early on about their wishes.  Make those wishes as clear as you can. Do not be fearful that anyone will let you die before your time. Trust that your family or friends can support you in your intentions, and be sure that you put everything in writing that you possibly can. Most importantly, however, try to find peace with yourself.


On The Road Again

November 2nd, 2010

I’ve been living in hotels and airports lately speaking at and visiting Planetree hospitals in places like Colorado, Alaska and Iowa.  I’ve had some really fascinating and also some creepy experiences. For example, a few weeks ago, I was eaten by bed bugs in Denver. My legs looked like they were Thanksgiving dinner for someone. I was so freaked out from that experience that I threw away my suitcases and kept my clothes in the dryer until they could fit my granddaughter’s Ken doll.  I’m happy to report, however, that I’m bedbug free now. The down side? I really haven’t had a good night’s sleep in any hotel bed since then.

1919 Classic American Root Beer - Nick Jacobs - Healing Hospitals blogWhat else have I observed?  Last week, while traveling in Iowa, I learned about a drink called 1919.  I thought that it was a stronger version of a 7 & 7, but it turned out that it was root beer —Classic American Draft Root Beer.   Also, for the first time in years, I noticed that every table in almost every restaurant had Thousand Island salad dressing. Everyone seemed to like waffle fries, too; these are French fries that are cut to look like little waffles. By the end of the week, I was saying things like, “I’d like a salad with Thousand Island dressing, a plate of waffle fries, and a 1919.” (Sorry, Dr. Ornish. )

This hospital in Waverly, Iowa was incredible.  It was beautiful, warm, and filled with really friendly, competent employees.  Iowans also claim the honor of being the fourth windiest state in the union, but I think that notoriety only came after my speech.  They can claim Johnny Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Herbert Hoover, Ann Landers and John Wayne as theirs, too.  The very most interesting find?  The Quaker Oats factory is in Cedar Rapids.

The week before, while making a speech at Central Peninsula Hospital in Alaska, I noticed that everyone’s eyes had left both my presentation and me and were focusing on the scene that was taking place outside of the panoramic window behind me.   Imagine, gorgeous, snow capped mountains with glaciers tucked in between them feeding a glacier lake.   One of the employees explained to me that a seal had emerged with a halibut the size of a Volkswagen hood in its mouth while several bald eagles swooped down at the seal and grabbed bites of the halibut right out of its mouth.  It was like the Disney movie, “Seal Island,” or maybe it was like “The Muppets Kitchen?”  Anyway, it was fairly amazing to watch, and I was glad I was NOT the seal, but even more delighted that I was not the halibut.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

After the meeting was over, two of the administrators in attendance were taking a small fishing boat to some island nearby, and then, were going hiking into the woods where they planned to go deer hunting among the bears. Read that line again; they were going deer hunting with the bears, the very big, grizzly bears.  The up side of that trip is that the deer there are very BIG. The down side is that the bears are bigger.  These guys explained to me that a lot of time, the bears decide to try to eat both the harvested deer and the non-harvested deer hunters.  It’s at times like that when being able to run faster than your hunting partner is probably important.

Where to next?  Pittsburgh for a panel for the American College of Healthcare Executives at Station Square, then a panel for the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in San Diego, and finally, Fort Myers, Florida for work on a bio-tech center.

I’ve decided to carry a very large flashlight and a very small bottle of bourbon, with some sand.  I’m thinking that the bed bugs will get drunk and try to stone each other to death.


$500 Billion From Where?

October 26th, 2010

In a recent conversation with a long time healthcare CEO, he made the following observation:

“There are about 2,750 pages to Obamacare.  I have no idea what the implications are of the first 2,700 pages, but I do know that at least 50 pages allude to the fact that $500B will be cut from hospital reimbursements in order to support the new legislation, and it’s also clear that these monies will be cut based upon quality.  Pay-for-performance will be the new catch phrase of the reimbursement world, and our peers are not ready for this stark reality.”

How does one move from a non-transparent system to one that allows anyone to log onto healthcare websites and search every detail relating to the success rates, scores, and capabilities of any given institution?  One very obvious “missing element” in hospital-related problems is the lack of dedication to getting to the “root cause” of most issues.  We are great at work arounds, but rarely take the time, energy, and have the cultural commitment to dig deeply enough to literally stop the root cause of the problem.  Is that why there are a reported 98,000 people killed by our facilities, and about an equal number injured each year?

Several organizations have attempted to take on these issues, but few have gone beyond scratching the surface of the real problems.  As bundled payments become the norm, a commitment to getting the highest available reimbursement for procedures will take on a new meaning.  Imagine a great doctor in an under-performing medical center where his or her work is not rewarded equally to a peer in a stronger hospital, because that bundled reimbursement was lowered due to institutional medical imperfections. Charles Kenney in  The Best Practice, and Steven Spear in The High-Velocity Edge have both addressed some of the nuances of this new culture, this new world order, but for hospital administrators, physicians, and staff to “get their arms around it,”  there will need to be transformational shifts in the fundamental culture of the organization.

Leadership will be forced to accept personal responsibility for virtually everything that occurs in an organization.  Employees will need to be empowered to embrace shared values, and key targets such as patient and employee safety will need to be identified so that goals can be set that stop nothing short of a level of complete PERFECTION.

The healthcare establishment will also need to embrace transparency within their organizations, and that information must be shared with everyone.  Most importantly, it must include the human element.  What is the human impact of each and every error or mistake?  This point alone will represent a major cultural shift in the way we do business.

Truman's phrase "The Buck Stops Here" - F. Nicholas Jacobs, FACHE

Employees, physicians, and administrators will need to actually be taught to see risk, and be provided with data upon which actions may be taken.  Most importantly, however, problem solving must be encouraged and supported at every level of the organization.

How is this all possible?  I was recently on a speaking tour to several hospitals, and the bottom line at these facilities was that their leadership was “new age.”  They had worked diligently to decrease the hierarchy and to reduce and reorganize the roles of those in operations in order to support the fastest possible improvements.

The tsunami is coming, however slowly it may appear to be; it is approaching our healthcare shores, and quality – no, perfection, is the only means left for achieving success or, in many cases, is the only way to survive.  We must discipline ourselves to see problems and not simply try to work around them.  We must establish a problem solving culture.  We must set our goals and empower all of the players to do what is needed to solve these problems once and forever.  Harry Truman’s phrase, “The Buck Stops Here,” should become every CEO’s mantra, and the journey will finally begin, the journey to solve the myriad repeating problems in our current system.

Nick Jacobs, FACHE -