Adapt hospital culture to changing times

By Andrea J. Simon, former marketing, branding and culture change senior vice president at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan.

With all the changes taking place in healthcare, now is a good time to look at your hospital's culture. I wrote a series of blog posts on my work with Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where I twice served as interim senior vice president of marketing and branding, most recently from 2010-2011.

During that time, one of the biggest challenges the medical center faced was how to change its culture. Healthcare reform, we all knew, altered the delivery of care and the revenue streams.

Younger doctors, nurses and staff who entered the system brought with them new values, beliefs and work styles. And yet the hospital, and perhaps your organization as well, operated with exactly the same culture--values, beliefs and behaviors--as it had done for many years.

The CEO, Patrick Wardell, wanted to begin a culture change process. But what was the culture, anyway? What should it change to? And how do you change culture? It's a tricky business, because old habits and cultures are well ingrained, reinforced by the people with whom you share them.

It didn't take us long to realize how controlling and hierarchical the hospital had become. On far too many occasions, staff and physicians came up with interesting ideas for improving care delivery. But when we asked my colleagues at Hurley how to turn these ideas into actions, they told me to ask the CEO.

Another ingrained cultural element was the lack of staff empowerment to do things in an ad hoc way. A highly unionized organization, the staff was most comfortable letting decisions travel up the line for someone senior to make, then waiting for the answers to trickle back down to them. Plus, physicians and nurses had less than collaborative relationships--not an ideal situation and one that seemed ripe for culture change.

Our challenge quickly became apparent. How could we get 2,500-plus physicians and employees to first, understand their existing culture, and second, agree upon how it should be in the future?

Read the full commentary at Hospital Impact