It doesn’t get much worse than it did for Texas Health Resources last fall. Not only did one of its hospitals lose a patient to Ebola, but it happened to be the first person diagnosed with the disease in the U.S., meaning there were a whole lot of eyes on the organization.
And after it became clear the patient had initially been misdiagnosed and sent home, only to be readmitted three days later, there was a whole lot of finger pointing. Everyone wanted to know what had led to the miscommunication between nurses and physicians that then led to the hospital discharging a patient who had recently been in Liberia.
Initially, Texas Health Resources (THR) cited a workflow issue with its EHR system as a primary factor in the misdiagnosis. Shortly after, however, the organization backed off its statement, but the damage had already been done. Vendors weighed in. Industry experts weighed in. A Health Affairs blog went so far as to say that the communication lapse which led to Duncan’s discharge was “an example of the failure of the American health care system.”
Daniel Varga, THR’s chief clinical officer and senior EVP, was forced to give testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations explaining what had gone wrong and how the organization was working to fix it.
As if that wasn’t enough, several months later a nurse who had contracted the disease while caring for Duncan filed a lawsuit against the health system, claiming it was negligent in its training of the staff.
The whole thing was ugly.
The organization that had spent years solidifying its a reputation as a leader in healthcare and innovation, as well as a top destination for employers (even in 2015, it was named to Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list) had taken a brutal PR hit that undoubtedly left leadership feeling bruised and battered.
But sometimes when things are at their darkest, a little bit of light manages to creep in.
Rick Allen, CIO at Southern Regional Medical Center, had never worked directly with Ed Marx (then CIO at Texas Health Resources). But Marx had left quite an impression on him when they met while serving on advisory boards together. So much so, in fact, that Allen reached out to Marx during the Ebola crisis “to let him know that there was support among his peers,” he said in a recent interview. Allen wanted Marx to know that “if there was anything I could do, I was there for him.”
A kind gesture, sure. But why go out on a limb and reach out to someone you don’t even know very well? The reason is because during the interactions they did have, Allen learned a tremendous amount about the type of leader he wanted to be. He learned the value of interpersonal skills and he changed his management style for the better, and for that reason, he felt indebted to Marx.
“What I got from him meant that much to me, it made me feel as though I should reach out and provide that same level of support,” Allen said.
He did and, as it turned out, that small act of kindness had a big impact.
“There were some dark days for us organizationally and as a peer he knew it must have been tough so he did the leader thing and reached out. I will never ever forget that,” Marx said in a comment on our site. “Sometimes we are so self-focused we don’t reach out to our peers in times of trouble. Rick did and it meant the world to me!”
I couldn’t agree more with Marx’s sentiment. It’s so easy to get mired in the muck and forget that others have it just as bad as we do — if not worse. It’s easy to think things like, “You think you’re the only one with problems? Welcome to the club!” What’s not always so easy is having compassion and offering encouragement to someone who needs it, especially as we’re sorting through our own issues.
To me, that’s true leadership.