Going International


Managing editor
One little connection she never knew existed linked CommWell Health’s CEO Pamela Tripp, of Dunn, to the other side of the world. Now, she and her colleagues from Harnett and Johnston counties, are training leaders on excellence in the Middle East’s first Christian hospital.
It all started after Tripp noticed the burnout and high turnover rates in the health care industry and the dominoes those problems toppled several years ago. Tripp wrote a book about the changes needed in modern health care and developed a program to uplift her peers, knowing that if they were taken care of, they would be in better shape to offer premium care.
“I believe in the O2 principle,” she said. “We put the oxygen masks on our colleagues and our health care workers and then we put it on the patient because we can’t give what we do not have and there’s a lot of gas tanks running low.”
The burnout was consuming health care workers long before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the stress fire into an inferno.
“It’s never been more important for us to have just awesome valuable quality of care and to have internal systems that will allow us to continuously improve that care,” Tripp said. “There’s never been more of a greater need for us to have financial stability and to have systems in place so that not only will we be surviving, but we’ll be thriving and able to do more for patient care.”
That’s what her Culture Transcendence program aims to do – inspiring the best out of everyone with a supportive push towards excellence that buoys an industry’s bottom line.
CommWell Health is a large nonprofit multi-county community health system, offering medical, dental, behavioral and specialty services in southeastern North Carolina. In 2009, the health system was “failing in all areas of culture, quality, finance, and regulatory guidance,” according to a PowerPoint slide in the Corporate Transcendence blueprint. “It was described by a Joint Commission surveyor as being ‘burnt to the ground.’”
The system was more than $8.4 million in debt with a $15 million budget and a negative cash flow. It was hemorrhaging employees and some voluntary deferments of compensation were required to make payroll.
After the Corporate Transcendence program was established, the system’s turnover rate dropped from 23% to 11%; promotions increased by 25-30% over a five-year period; 83% of employees said they planned to stay; the system was named a provider of choice with a 4.5-5 star rating; it saw 44% more patients over seven years; it received 40 international awards and recognition for health care excellence; the organization doubled in size and scope with more practice locations, and it resolved its $8.4 million debt in seven years.
The system now sits pretty with more than $5 million in reserves. And it is the first community health system in the nation to receive Milestone Two Recognition in a bid for a Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award (the nation’s only presidential award for performance excellence). But it wasn’t that glass case full of sparkling trophies in CommWell Health’s Four Oaks office that caught the gaze of the Middle East. It was Tripp’s book – that little book with a big message.

On the other side of the world
Tripp received a text from Dr. Timothy Fincher, the CEO of Kanad Hospital of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, last year.
“He said that he got my name from Congressman Ted Budd, who’s in the western part of our state, and Congressman Ted Budd had a copy of my book, ‘The Culture Cure,’” Tripp said.
She never met Budd, but Fincher knew him from theology school and when Fincher was looking for a program to lift all areas of his hospital, Budd mentioned “The Culture Cure; Transforming the Modern Healthcare.”
The book is described as “the essential DNA required to break free of the status quo environment that continues to dominate the American healthcare industry. It begins with the understanding of fundamental organizational core values that lay the foundation for excellence in culture, quality, finance, and governance …”
In other words, the training offers every employee a chance to take the reins of excellence, using their best and unique skills to help a company succeed, with a focus on its people, systems, finances, and accountability. It’s worked for CommWell Health. And it’s working for other industries, too, namely the First Baptist Church of Four Oaks.
Christopher Vann, CommWell Health’s chief development officer, attends the church.
“We took this curriculum, this blueprint and we applied it into the church … and we had unbelievable attendance. We’ve never had attendance like this before,” Vann said. “The entire church got involved. It spawned a discernment process that we called Dawnings and since that time we’ve restructured the way our committees meet. They’re not committees anymore. They’re ministries.”
The church’s discipleship training classes now follow the Transcendence program’s
“Mastermind” concept in which everyone has a chance to lead and teach and use their unique skills to make a difference.
“If you have something that works and it’s good, it’s your responsibility to share it,” Tripp said, “and we love for people to share with us. We see it as a societal benefit.”
Tripp and her team shared the culture excellence training model with the Dunn Police Athletics and Activities League and in national conferences.
“We’re just thankful to have the opportunity to share and I say it’s a divine thing,” said Tripp, who founded CommWell Health’s Leadership Excellence Academy, trademarked as Corporate Transcendence.
“I don’t know Congressman Ted Budd, but I think it’s pretty cool that those connections came and especially with the backdrop of COVID today in our nation and our world. There’s never been a greater need for culture excellence,” she said. “There’s never been a greater need for employees to be fed into and, you know, you can’t give what you don’t have.”

From left, Christopher Vann, CommWell Health’s chief development officer and vice president of development, catches up with Regina Gainey, CommWell Health’s certified corporate transcendence coach, and Pam Tripp, CommWell Health’s CEO after a morning Zoom call with Kanad Hospital Friday.
Training on an eight-hour time difference
Tripp’s team has been working with Kanad Hospital since July, coaching and training through an eight-hour time difference on Zoom and conference calls.
Next month, Tripp and her team are heading to Al Ain, east of Abu Dhabi, to “train the trainers” of transcendence in the Middle East.
“The purpose here is not to come in as coaches or consultants and then when you leave, it all goes away. The purpose here is to train the trainers,” she said, so the model of excellence stays with them when she and her team leave.
“Corporate Transcendence hardwires systemic behavioral change by breaking down silos to increase process interdependency; by intellectually and behaviorally engaging the workforce and reinforcing accountability. The result is lasting culture transformation that ensures a healthy, innovative, thriving organization,” according to Dr. Debbie Manzo, a senior Malcolm Baldrige examiner and director of the North Carolina Performance Excellence program at North Carolina State University.
Kanad Hospital is a state-of-the-art facility with 600 employees on staff and is the largest and only Christian hospital located in the Middle East. Kanad was founded by missionaries Dr. Marian and Pat Kennedy through the invitation of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his brother, Sheikh Shakbut, who desired to bring modern health care specializing in maternal and pediatric services to the Emirates.
It is now recognized as one of the best hospitals in Al Ain for expectant mothers and young children and was the birthplace of the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi.
“In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought that we would be mentoring another health care outside the U.S.,” Tripp said.
Fincher is happy, too.
“Kanad is pleased to be partnering with the U.S.-based Leadership Excellence Academy to further Kanad’s enrichment of services in its journey from excellence to exceptional,” Fincher said in a CommWell Health press release.

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