What Happens When You Empower People

A Doomed Health System

In 2009, I was asked to step in as an Interim CEO of a large community health system by the governing board; there was a very real possibility that the organization was beyond hope of resuscitation. The vast operational failure meant the likely demise of this long-standing community health center system that cared for over 25,000 patients in which 99% lived in the 200% or lower federal poverty level.

A financially devastated healthcare organization wobbling on the edge of bankruptcy, saddled with a debt of over $8 million with a budget of $15 million, the organization found itself at a major crossroads of closing its doors, filing bankruptcy, drastically downsizing, or daring to take the high risk of attempting a turnaround. The day of reckoning had arrived.

A Resurrection Story

My extraordinary transformation story began when I took over the leadership reins of this “doomed” organization. The journey of CommWell Health resurrection forms a narrative of rebirth, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It has become a testimony to the power of people to grow and learn when they are engaged, equipped, and empowered. People that can be used for a calling greater than they ever dreamed possible.

Even though I knew it was going to be the largest professional challenge of my life, I knew this turnaround was a calling for me. I felt strong in my leadership abilities and had a clear vision for the future of the organization that I was entrusted to lead.

The Answers are Within

My belief system from many years as a healthcare educator and leader is this: healing and best answers to problems come from the people doing the work within. My overarching strategy was providing wise leadership, as I gained the support of colleagues by investing, equipping and empowering them. The organization required a strong servant leader who would work alongside and believe with the colleagues in the mission and vision of delivering highest quality care to all people.

Start With Communication

One of the initial priority leadership action steps was to provide transparent communication by personally connecting with each colleague, and to establish a CEO communique emailed weekly to individual colleagues with our recovery progress updates. I used the principle of proximity to engage and build personal relationships with over 300 colleagues, regardless of their title or position.

Building Trust & Respect

Building a relationship of mutual respect and trust was of foundational importance. Investing in colleague relationships and their personal growth and development was foundational to any success we could create. This kind of empowerment would result in the creativity, innovation, and the passageway needed for us to not only to survive, but to thrive.

Train to Empower

Colleague trainings included team building and team dynamics, critical thinking, innovative problem solving, service excellence principles, and conflict resolution to list a few. Departmental silos eventually began to break down, and each department’s success was celebrated by all. Organizational momentum accelerated, and many small and large wins were realized.

From Hopelessness to Hope

There was a culture developing that breathed anticipation of excellence by colleagues, with an accepted expectancy of a constantly transforming environment. Hopelessness transformed to hope, and hope evolved to a new reality. Colleagues were embracing their clear vision of creating an organization of excellence based on strong core values.

My comprehensive Culture of Excellence curriculum, called Corporate Transcendence, was fully implemented in the third year of our journey of transformation. It required front line role models, we named them Soaring Eagles, to be trained to teach workshops in personal and professional development to all colleagues. Although pleased with the substantial progress that our organization had achieved, I felt concerned in making sure our continued progress, and innovation was sustainable for the future. Becoming a certified speaker, coach, trainer with John Maxwell Team, along with others in my organization, further enhanced leadership training for aspiring, young, and seasoned leaders in our organization.

Hardwiring Success Through Mastermind Groups

To support long-lived success, monthly Mastermind Groups for our Soaring Eagles and Eagle Mentors (front line colleagues), and to our Golden Eagles (Leadership Management Team), and to our Visionary Eagles (Senior Leadership Team) was hardwired. Today, living in my sweet spot of investing in and developing people who were engaged, empowered, and continually transforming our culture has resulted in excellence in culture, quality, finance, and governance.

The “CEO” in my title came to officially stand for “Chief Encouragement Officer.” All has been made possible because we created a culture of equipping and empowerment at every level of our organization. In only seven short years, CommWell Health has become a nationally recognized, award winning healthcare organization of excellence. Today CommWell is a financially thriving organization with assets of over $12 million, cash reserve of over $4.3 million, operating a robust budget of over $21 million, and has doubled it practice locations for care in medical, dental, and behavioral health.

Staying On Our Toes

To ensure the highest quality of care, CommWell Health presently tracks over 190 Patient Clinical Outcomes in real time and is a member of prestigious Health Choice Network, NC Community Health Center Association, and National Association of Community Health Centers, and been certified and accredited by the most rigorous regulatory and evaluation associations such as Joint Commission and HRSA- Health Resources Service Administration. CommWell Health has become a research site partnering with Boston and Campbell Universities that includes Special Populations of National Significance (SPNS), and is a teaching center providing clinical training for over 100 healthcare students, interns, and residents annually.

Long-term Plan For Empowerment

Through colleague empowerment and equipping, CommWell went from having dismal employee satisfaction ratings to become recognized as an employer of choice as demonstrated through Press Ganey Employee Engagement Surveys, and boasts a longevity factor of 63% of its colleagues stating they intend to stay with CommWell Health for more than 10 years. Our culture of excellence provides a natural succession plan, as in 2016 more than 15% of colleagues received promotions from within.

Receiving the Malcolm Baldrige Award

In 2016, CommWell Health received the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Milestone 1 “Quest for Excellence” award, becoming the first Community Health Center in the nation to ever receive this recognition. The long litany of honors awarded to CommWell Health grows regularly; the flourishing fruit of a thriving culture.

Reaching Beyond the Organization

The transformation process continues as the organization launches the Eagle Excellence University to provide leadership development for healthcare and other organizations in Fall 2017. In addition, as adjunct faculty with Campbell University, our certified coaches will teach Eagle Excellence to undergrad and graduate Health Administration and Public Health students for educational credit.

In our Community Eagle Excellence outreach initiative, CommWell Health will begin facilitating Community Mastermind Groups with some of our most vulnerable CommWell Health Patients. Many suffer from serious diseases and compromised living conditions, as it relates to drug addictions, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS. Also Mastermind Groups will be provided by our Spanish speaking team to our Latino population through an Episcopal Farmworker Outreach Ministry, for personal and professional development.

The CommWell Health Culture of Excellence has transcended our walls to equip the communities we serve across North Carolina. We are no longer just creating healthy communities; we are equipping our colleagues, patients, communities to live lives of excellence.

Transformation For Every Person in Healthcare

The transformation within CommWell Health and the communities we influence throughout North Carolina has been inspiring…but it is not enough. Curriculum of organizational excellence transformation can be utilized by healthcare workers and organizations everywhere. To share transformational principles began with my first book, published in 2016. It is titled The Culture Cure: Transforming the Modern Healthcare System, and is available in bookstores everywhere in print, digital, and audiobook formats. It is an innovative read that fosters transformation, and gives proof that investing in people brings massive, tangible success,

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