HR Administration

WVU Medicine: Optimas Winner for General Excellence

By Sarah Sipek

Nov. 22, 2015

From left: WVU Medicine’s Jennifer Mackovjak; Ralph Lambert; Cheryl Travis; Katie Hannah; Annette Belcher; Kelsey Wilson; Maraia Gonelevu; Darlene Davisson; John Bihun; and Meredith Weaver.

A year ago, the threat of Ebola had the United States in a panic, and understandably so. As outbreaks of the deadly virus spread across African countries Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, politicians called for an end to flights to that region while scientists posited theories of how Ebola might “go airborne.” Their alarm bells worked. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from Oct. 14, 2014, found that two-thirds of Americans were worried about a possible widespread Ebola epidemic in the United States.

While the majority of Americans were giving in to fear, WVU Medicine did the opposite: It collaborated to find a solution. Due largely to the efforts of its human resources department, WVU created the Special Event Readiness Program dedicated to the treatment of patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola cases while still ensuring the safety of health care staff and other patients being treated at the hospital.

WVU Medicine is made up of two corporations: University Health Associates and WVU Hospitals. Together they provide health care to people across the Morgantown region of West Virginia. Given the organization’s demonstrated commitment to patient care, as the threat of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. became increasingly possible, a multidisciplinary team was formed in August 2014 to develop an action plan, said Annette Belcher, senior human resources generalist at WVU Medicine.

The efforts required representatives from HR, infection control, environmental services, the laboratory, quality and information technology to collaborate and devise an effective response. Bringing together employees with such vastly different strengths might typically end in a butting of heads, but not at WVU Medicine.

“Collaboration across the organization is something that we do very well here,” Belcher said. “We strive to make sure that all the right people are included in decisions as we move forward with new initiatives.”

Still, Belcher and her team were not willing to sit back and hope collaboration occurred organically. HR leaders put in a lot of effort on the front end to ensure that the goal is achieved. Before the representatives ever met, they recruited staff members who possessed qualifications that would be useful for getting such an initiative off the ground.

We knew that we had a core group of folks that had not been through Ebola specifically but maybe had been on trips to other types of countries for other efforts, served in the military in health care and had been parts of similar things,” Belcher said. “We reached out to those folks first. Then we partnered with our nursing leaders to go out and determine senior staff who would be willing to help us in this situation. We gathered all those names, talked one-on-one with all those people, made sure they understood the commitment and then went on with the training once we had our pool of volunteers.”

Belcher credits the size of the organization with being able to achieve this goal. At 7,500 employees, HR knows the WVU Medicine staff on a personal and professional level, which allowed them to recognize potential leaders within the organization.

Once the team was formed, HR organized a series of weekly in-person meetings and follow-up emails so that the initiative’s groundwork could be laid quickly.

After forming their team, communication became the next hurdle for HR. Belcher anticipated that many staff members would have heightened concerns about treating the deadly virus. Instead of pandering to a fear of the unknown, HR put a face to their cause and had its chosen leaders head town hall-style meetings to address any concerns staff members might have about the initiative.

“We also provided talking points to our leadership team across the organization,” Belcher said. “Leaders in areas that weren’t directly involved with this would have specific talking points to review with their staff during staff meetings. That was the expectation.”

While it was important to achieve staff buy-in for the Special Events Readiness Program, it was even more important to make sure that those who agreed to be a part of the program were appropriately trained to do so. WVU Medicine has an on-site center for training and education staffed with nursing educators. As part of the Ebola-readiness preparation,

Senior human resources generalist Kelli Piccirillo, third from right, talks with other members of the WVU Medicine staff.

these nurses developed an entirely new curriculum for training that would be delivered to staff members.

“This training wasn’t specific to nursing,” Belcher said. “We also needed to be able to train the housekeeper how to clean appropriately. Housekeeping, nursing, medical staff, physicians and anybody that would be working with this patient population needed training.”

Belcher and her team looked to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other organizations that had taken on similar tasks in order to develop their own best practices. Training is offered in multiple shifts to accommodate staff and unit needs and is ongoing to keep staff in a constant state of readiness.

Staff members weren’t asked to take on such additional training and responsibilities out of the goodness of their hearts, though. A special compensation program was also developed to offer incentives to employees responsible for patients being treated in the Infection Prevention and Containment Unit. Based on duties and duration of service, they may receive incentive pay, lump-sum pay, on-call pay and paid time off for their commitment to care for select patients.

WVU Medicine’s program is considered a success. Earlier this year, the CDC designated WVU Medicine as an Ebola treatment center. This distinction was based on the organization’s proven ability to provide the necessary staff, training and equipment that patients requiring unique care would need.

While Ebola never reached epidemic levels in theUnited States, the efforts WVU Medicine’s HR department put into creating and executing an organizationwide effort did not go to waste. Quite the opposite. It demonstrated an organizationwide commitment to collaboration that can be used to overcome any challenge that WVU Medicine may face.

“I’m really proud to say that I work within a human resources department that sits at the table with executive leaders,” Belcher said. “We are part of the decisions and part of a lot of initiatives as it comes from a concept to actual realization in the organization. This wasn’t new to us to be part of a bigger concept and be directly involved in that. It happens pretty often to be honest with you.”

For its workforce initiative, which demonstrates excellence spanning several Optimas categories including partnership, training, vision and managing change, WVU Medicine is the 2015 Optimas Award General Excellence winner. 

Sarah Sipek is a Workforce associate editor.

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