The Friday before Memorial Day weekend was a cloudy, foggy, and dreary day that threatened to dampen the unofficial start of summer. Yet the weather did not affect the mood inside a conference room at Northwell Health’s brand-new Long Island headquarters in New Hyde Park, New York. The mood in the room was welcoming as jazz music filtered through the speakers and attendees exchanged greetings and hugs in anticipation of Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Forest Hills Labor Management Partnership’s Joint Leadership Retreat.
The retreat was a re-launch of the unique 2013 partnership between Northwell Health LIJ Forest Hills (then North Shore – LIJ Forest Hills) and 1199SEIU. It was also a re-education about, and a renewal of the energy behind, the partnership’s labor and management co-led Collaborative Care Councils (CCCs), whose focus is the delivery of high quality, patient-centered care. Inspired by union and management leadership’s 2012 visit to Kaiser Permanente in California, the CCCs are modeled after Kaiser’s labor-management Unit Based Teams, which are cross-functional, interdisciplinary work groups designed to facilitate the engagement of frontline staff in process improvement. The teams are based on the fundamental understanding that no one worker is any more important than another (e.g., doctor vs. housekeeper or nurse) and all staff should have a voice in decisions that affect their work.
The retreat was nearly a year in the making. Approximately 80 people attended, including CCC union and management co-leads, union delegates, executive union and management leadership, and a few special guests from Northwell’s corporate leadership. It was hosted by Strategic Alliance Development Coordinators Stephanie Grubczak and Andrea De Loney. During the opening remarks, all the executive leaders who spoke struck a positive, optimistic tone about the benefits of the partnership and the amount of work that still had to be done to make progress on this joint leadership journey. Although the union and management may have different vantage points, they noted, at the end of the day they both have one common goal: high-quality patient care. The speakers outlined the challenges facing the healthcare industry today and the need to partner in order to respond effectively to those challenges. They inspired participants to strive for excellence and to be courageous frontline leaders in this effort to achieve something no other hospitals in the New York City area have been willing to pursue.
The afternoon training session was facilitated by Labor Management Project (LMP) Consultants Diann Jeffers and Samonne Montgomery. They discussed the history of labor-management work broadly and at the hospital, the importance of emotional intelligence for partnership success, Stephen Covey’s circle of influence, the five behaviors of cohesive teams, and personal leadership commitments. They also highlighted the fact that the executive leadership had invested a lot of time and resources in efforts to redesign and hardwire an effective partnership infrastructure.
The LMP consultants elicited feedback on how participants have been experiencing the partnership work on their units. Many other employees celebrated the joint work they were accomplishing together with management, while others commented on the inherent challenges, feeling safe enough to share negative as well as positive experiences with the unit and hospital leadership present. In one particularly powerful moment, a nurse manager almost broke down in tears as one of her staff nurses acknowledged her efforts to go above and beyond for their unit. She admitted that she had been trying hard and that it felt really great to receive some appreciation from an employee, when typically what is discussed are conflicts and challenges. The conversation was transformative for both union members and union leadership, enabling them to see management issues from a more humanistic and vulnerable perspective.
With a resounding “we’re made for this!” to close out the day, 1199SEIU and LIJ Forest Hills recommitted together to maintaining the structures and leadership development needed to stay focused on what matters most: collaboration to deliver excellent patient care.
Northwell Strategic Alliance Development Coordinator Andrea De Loney called the retreat “a huge success,” noting: “We’ve receive tremendous feedback from those who attended, as well as those who wish they could’ve participated. It is our hope that attendees take the energy and momentum from the retreat and become even more engaged at the site.”
“It was not only a day to reinvigorate the momentum around the labor management initiative we have here at Forest Hills,” said Strategic Alliance Development Coordinator Stephanie Grubczak, Andrea’s Union counterpart. “It gave us a chance to see that no matter what our race, color, age or title, at the end of the day we are all human, we have feelings, we make mistakes and we all share the one common thread called life. We can and are working towards creating a new culture that contradicts the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. We have taken the first steps towards truly caring for the employee to care for the patient.”
Stay tuned to Partnership Matters in coming months as we report on the partnership work done by CCCs at Northwell Health LIJ Forest Hills!
Download a pdf of this article.