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From Chicago Hospital News, July 2003

Profile: Mount Sinai VP Jackie Conrad
Innovation in Nursing Management Leading to Positive Results
Written by John Fries

For more than 80 years, Mount Sinai Hospital has been providing health care for individuals and families living on Chicago's West Side. What started in 1919 as a 60-bed hospital founded to serve needy European immigrants and train Jewish physicians is now the 432-bed flagship of the Sinai Health System. The system also includes Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital (located across the street from Mount Sinai), Sinai Community Institute, and the Sinai Medical Group.

Mount Sinai Hospital is a teaching, research and tertiary care facility that provides state-of-the-art medical and surgical care to a predominantly African-American and Latino community. Over the years, the hospital has been expanded and enhanced in many ways with a Level I trauma center, a child abuse diagnosis-treatment-prevention unit and a high-risk, Level III maternity and infant intensive care program. And in the past few years alone, the hospital opened a state-of-the-art outpatient care center, the Goodman Family Maternal and Child Center and a completely renovated and expanded emergency and trauma facility.

What has remained constant is the hospital's basic commitmen--first and foremos--to the needs of each patient.

"We're a mission-driven organization," said Jackie Conrad, RN, CRRN, vice president of Patient Care Services for Mount Sinai and Schwab Hospitals, "and we attract mission-driven people."

According to Conrad, the staff at the hospital--administrators, physicians, nurses, and other--genuinely care about the patients they serve. Conrad knows this well. She's been part of the Sinai family since 1984, when she first walked into Schwab Rehab Hospital to begin her clinical rotation. Conrad, who earned a Bachelor's degree in science at nearby St. Xavier University, stayed at Schwab Rehab for the next 18 years, eventually becoming its nursing administrator.

In January 2002, Mount Sinai and Schwab Rehab underwent reorganization aimed at creating efficiencies through the sharing of resources, and Conrad was named vice president of patient care for both facilities. Given some of the issues that exist in the health care environment today, not the least of which is a nursing shortage, Conrad has enjoyed a high level of success in her relatively new position, thanks to a strong sense of innovation.

"One of the issues I faced when I joined Mount Sinai was a 50 percent turnover rate among new graduate nurses," said Conrad. "This is a great place to work, and I couldn't, at first, understand why so many nurses were leaving."Then she arrived at the idea of conducting focus groups involving about 15 new grad nurses each quarter. Once the new nurses were given the opportunity to express themselves, it didn't take long for a pattern to emerge.

"We discovered that many of the veteran nurses were creating an environment for new graduate urses that was unfriendly and non-supportive," said Conrad. "They were challenging the new nurses to prove themselves, rather than making them feel at home. I knew something had to be done to change this.

In response, the hospital has implemented 'Cultivating Caring,' a quality improvement initiative that provides a focused approach to help nurses work better together and with patients. "Because customer service surveys indicate that a key driver of patients' perceptions of quality of care is directly related to how they perceive nurses' understanding and caring, 'Cultivating Caring' focuses on awareness of the human touch", said Conrad. "This includes eye contact, soft tone of voice, listening skills and more."

The hospital has also launched a telephone hotline for patient complaints, and nurses are encouraged to offer an apology to patients and to handle complaints on the spot. To foster a friendly work environment among established and new nurses, a program called 'Red Carpet Treatment' is now underway. The hospital provides first year nurses with a blue ribbon to affix to their name badges, and encourages administrators to welcome the new nurses with a smile when they see them in the hallways. Photos of new hires are also placed on the nursing units.

Conrad said the programs have motivated a considerable amount of positive feedback, and results. Conrad also eliminated the hospital's need for outside nurses. "Previously, we had a high reliance on agency nurses for staffing," said Conrad. "As we've continued to modify how nursing leaders and staff nurses interact, our reliance on agencies has decreased. We're offering more flexible scheduling and improving nurse-to-patient ratios. Last year, we had the equivalent of about 37 full time employees who were agency nurses. Now there are none on patient care units, although a few of the agency nurses have joined our staff."

Conrad is proud of Mount Sinai's growth. The hospital has achieved children's hospital status, and, since last summer, has exceeded benchmarks for births. Conrad notes that future plans include adding a pediatrics area to the emergency room, making it more child-friendly, and growing the cardiac care area with an expanded cath lab and a revitalized open heart program. Three open-heart cases have already been performed, and more are upcoming.

"We'll continue to look toward the future and continue to innovate," said Conrad.

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