Strengthening the Chapter-Hospital Relationship


by Tamekia Reece

At the annual conference in San Antonio last July, Mended Hearts Southwest Georgia Chapter 165 won the Southern Regional Chapter of the Year and the President’s Cup – National Chapter of the Year awards. At the same event, the hospital where the chapter does its visitation, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia, was named Southern Regional Hospital of the Year.

Al Voss, regional director of the Southern Region and president of Chapter 165, says both groups were ecstatic about the awards.

“I was pleased and our chapter members were excited, but I think the hospital administration and staff were even more excited,” he says. “They had a presentation and celebration about both awards, their award is on display, and Mended Hearts is now on the flat-screen TVs that patients, visitors and guests see throughout the hospital.”

Things haven’t always been this good, however. When Voss became president of the chapter in January 2017, the relationship between the hospital and the chapter was severely fractured. “The chapter was in really bad shape and the hospital was getting close to throwing us out,” Voss says. “The hospital had complaints from patients, visitors and staff about [MH] members not following hospital rules.”

Voss wanted to make sure the chapter’s visiting privileges with the hospital would continue. He knew personally how important the visits are for heart patients.

“I found out I had heart disease the hard way when I ended up in hospital in July 2016,” he says. One of his main arteries ruptured, so he had the artery repaired and now has stents; that was followed by a stroke in August 2016. He got involved in MH as a direct result of receiving a visit from a MH member during one of his hospital stays. So, just as Chapter 165 supported him when he needed it, he wanted to make sure it continued doing the same for others.

Facing the Problem Head-On

The first step Voss took was to determine where the relationship went wrong. He set up a meeting with hospital staff to discuss the issues. Judy Himes, coordinator for volunteer services at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, was involved in those meetings.

“When a patient interacts with a MH volunteer, they see that person as a representative of the hospital and we want our customer service to be exemplary,” Himes says. Both sides realized there was definitely some work to do.

Together Voss, Himes and other hospital staff members rolled up their sleeves and dug in. They talked about the hospital’s objectives and rules and what it would like to achieve. Voss provided information about MH rules.

“We found that both the hospital’s and chapter’s rules meshed pretty well,” Voss says.

Himes worked with the directors of the cardiac unit and the compliance department at the hospital to rewrite its visiting policy.

Although the hospital would have been within its rights to cut ties with the chapter, MH was given a chance to fix things. “Personally, for me, one of the things that touched me and made me want to do something to correct the situation [rather than end the relationship] was the volunteers themselves,” Himes says. “They were passionate about what they did, they wanted to make a difference in the patients’ lives and they wanted to be able to help wherever they could.”

Turning Talk Into Action

After meeting with the hospital and getting clear on what was needed, Voss went to work immediately.

“We moved some people around, we counseled people and we had the national visiting trainer from Mended Hearts come in to train us,” he says. “We explained the rules [for MH], we explained the rules for the hospital, and we made it clear to our members that we’re going to follow the rules and correct the issues.”

They prioritized the issues and started with the most important ones. Then they determined what happened, why the issues presented a problem and what could be done to fix them, says Voss.

Seeing Positive Results

By mid-May 2017, the chapter had fixed every problem and the relationship between Phoebe and MH improved dramatically. In 2016, the chapter conducted only 618 hospital visits. In 2017, after making changes and improving their relationship with the hospital, chapter members started visiting more patients — at the hospital’s request. “We ended the year with 10,021 visits,” Voss says.

The chapter’s membership numbers also increased by 34% during that time, something that Voss attributes, in part, to the increased number of visits. “We’re doing more visits, which gets more people interested,” he explains.

The improvements made both within the hospital and within the chapter were so significant that Voss and Himes joined forces to create a presentation about rejuvenating the chapter-hospital relationship, which they presented at the 2018 annual conference.

“I did it from the chapter’s perspective and she did it from the hospital’s perspective,” Voss says. The goal was to pass along lessons learned and help improve the partnership between other chapters and hospitals.

“At Mended Hearts, our mission is to give support and hope to patients,” Voss says. “The only way to do that is if the hospital respects and trusts us enough to let us in its doors.”

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