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Who I Used to Be – Part 1

Me At FL Hospital
Me At FL Hospital

Going through old papers and things as I prepare to move is bringing back so many memories of who I used to be. I am not a person who likes to “blow their own horn,” but I figured I could do that at least one time as I am being reminded about the “golden olden days.” That was before cancer, chemotherapy and radiation therapy took away so much of my life.

I did just about everything someone can do in healthcare.  My first job was as a unit secretary in the emergency room of a hospital that actually no longer exists. I worked for a cardio-thoracic surgeon, and as a unit secretary on the OB unit of a hospital in Florida for a while, before going back home and back to the ER.  Then I got married and didn’t work for a while.  I did some temporary work when the heating bills were high in the winter, but didn’t have a full-time job during my marriage.

After I found myself alone with a 2-year-old baby, I knew I could not be picky about the kind of job I got.  I took a job as a payroll clerk at a factory that made vinyl siding and shutters, and eventually moved into an inventory control position. Then, I was offered a job as a “Jill of all trades” at a horse transportation company. I scheduled and dispatched trucks, handled emergency situations like a truck stuck in the sugar sand in Florida. I did fuel tax reports for 49 states–yes, we went through Canada to Alaska, but they couldn’t make it to Hawaii.

After over three years, I missed working in healthcare. I saw an add for a unit secretary at a nursing home.  While I was not crazy about the thought of working in a skilled nursing facility, I managed to get an appointment with the Director of Nursing, and she hired me on the spot! After about 6 months working at the nursing station, I was asked to join the administrative staff as an administrative assistant. I jumped at the chance! I was in charge of utilization review, marketing, public relations, and facility safety (fire drills, evacuations, etc.).  I was also the IT person who managed all aspects of the AS/400 mainframe computer, including coding for new projects, and adding a PC network when those machines became readily available. I had no training for this–just the huge rack of AS/400 books to read. But, I made a lot of things happen! Add to that just about anything else that needed to be done. I worked there for 5 years before moving to Florida, and it was a wonderful 5 years. This was not your ordinary nursing home–no smells and no fooling around.  We were in our residents’ home, and they were to be treated that way.

I went to work for a small (50 beds) hospital near home in FL.  I worked there for 7-1/2 years as an administrative assistant. Our Administrator was only at that location for 1/2 day and at the rest of his time was spent at the “big house.” Before long, I was the person in charge of almost everything. Employee functions, marketing, public relations, even the dress code. I worked with architects and contractors to build a medical office building for two physicians. When we purchased some land behind the hospital with two small houses, I was charged with taking care of Scott Hamilton’s grandmother who lived in one of the houses. She was delightful, and so proud of her grandson. I spent time with her at least a couple of times a week, and made sure she got any health care that she needed. When she passed away, I arranged for her funeral at Florida Hospital in Orlando, where she had been transferred for cardiac care. My boss told a story at one of out meetings with volunteers.  He said his wife called one day and asked for him.  The volunteer on the switchboard didn’t know who he was. His wife said he was the administrator. The volunteer told her no, that I was the administrator.  Amid the laughs, he said it was true that I ran the hospital but he had the title! I was also the on-site IT go-to person by default–no one knew much about PCs then, and for some reason they made sense to me.

I was the chair of the Florida Hospital Association’s West central District, and chair of the American Hospital Association group and part of the governing board. I found tons of thank you letters and notes for the work I did with those organizations. I did the monthly Chamber of Commerce newsletter. I was the chair of the local YMCA and a member of the board of the local chapter of the American Heart Association. I was on the board of the local youth baseball league, and the statistician for the high school and summer swimming programs, as well as the official scorekeeper for baseball tournaments. I received an award from the Orange County Mobile Blood Drive Association for having the best improvement in donations of any hospital in their service area.  I was asked to take over the task, and I never do anything by halves. All of the administrative team were there, and I had no idea why. It was a great surprise. As you can imagine, I was very busy!

After 7-1/2 years I was ready for a change and a challenge. I was offered a job at a computer store as the marketing director for their new Internet service.  This was at the very early beginnings of the Internet becoming what it is today. They had 250 customers at the time I was hired, and a year later we had over 3,000. I went to every local club and association, showing them what they could find and how easy it was to use. I learned to code HTML and started designing web sites for our customers.  I also helped our technician with computer repairs.

I was at the hospital meeting with the C-suite to design a web site for them when I ran into the IT director. He asked me what I was up to and I told him why I was there. He said he had a job for me–designing Internet and Intranet sites for the hospital and doing database programming to support some upcoming projects. One year to the day after I left, I was back in orientation. I taught myself Microsoft Access and developed things like a patient tracking system, a surgery scheduling application, and many others.  We didn’t have electronic health records back then to do all of these things, and it was fun to be able to do things like this to help staff and patients. I even received two awards for web design from the Florida Hospital Association.

When we got a new CEO, I became his go-to person for projects.  He wanted videos for our annual galas, and I researched the best equipment–he signed the PO and I got to work. I not only did the gala videos, but I also did our TV commercials and other marketing things, working with the marketing department on these projects. I even coordinated a big commercial shoot for the corporation–including a helicopter taking off over the lake in front of the hospital. I had a ton of fun.  I also did all of our CEO’s presentations for local groups and government.  I had to travel with him, and he counted on me to keep him focused. I put together a video for a corporate meeting, and the corporate office sent me a “thank you” – an iPod!  It was a whole 1mg! Obviously, they were new back then. I still have it though–it’s attached to my car.

When the time came for us to implement our electronic health record, I was the designee to coordinate that project.  That wasn’t a well-received choice at our corporate office because I’m not a clinician. But our CEO said he knew I would get it done on time and under budget, and I did. We were one of the early adopters, and soon I was traveling all over helping other hospitals with their go-lives. My team had done such a great job that they all wanted to know how we did it.  It really was quite easy–I hired the right people, told them my expectations, made sure they got the right training and stepped back to let them do their jobs.  I had a lot of admin things to do, and they knew they could come to me with any problems.  But, I trusted them, and they came through with flying colors.

At work in Texas
At work in Texas

I got a call one day from one of our hospitals in Texas offering me a job there.  They were having trouble with staff and physician adoption of the EHR, and they needed someone who could make it work. I accepted the job, sold my house in FL and bought a new one in TX. Boy! What a culture shock! The culture there was, to say the least, toxic. The physicians were very resistant, and angry that they had to “do this stuff.” (That’s putting it nicely.) I was determined to turn that around.  I started with the staff.  I spent time on the floors with the nursing staff, answering questions and showing them how to make their jobs easier.  Their training had been less than adequate… It wasn’t long until they were calling me with questions or stopping by my office to tell me when things went well.

Then came time for me to work on the doctors. I started with the one who was the most angry! I went to his office and told him I wanted to help him.  As I was explaining how he could do some things that he didn’t understand I touched his laptop screen.  He told me not to touch his laptop screen.  A little bit later I did it again.  He angrily shouted at me not to touch his laptop screen.  I looked at him and said, “So hit me!” He was shocked. He asked me why he would want to do that.  I told him I was there to help him and if he could not treat me with respect, I would gladly leave.  I said I wasn’t touching his laptop screen for the fun of it–I was trying to show him icons that he didn’t recognize. He became one of my best friends!! When he would get angry about something, he usually took it out on me.  And then he would send me flowers!

Once the medical staff knew I was there to help them and not to force them to do something they didn’t want to do (that was the government), all was well. I put together a team with an educator and two physician liaisons, and we kept things running smoothly.  My boss (the CNO) asked me one day how we did it.  She said she never got any complaints about our department. I told her it was easy–hire the right people, train them, and let them do their jobs, coming to me if they had problems.  I don’t like micro-management! I was there for 6 years and we went through several upgrades and additional functionality improvements.  We always had the best results of any of the hospitals in the corporation.

During all this chaos, my son got married, had a son of his own, and they moved to Colorado.