Truman Veterans' Hospital employees outscore their peers in national surveys

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The responses of staffers at Truman Veterans’ Hospital in two national surveys were among the highest of all VA medical centers in the key areas of engagement, culture and employee satisfaction, VA officials say.

Within the first survey, the veterans’ hospital’s employees scored highest in areas of overall employee engagement, intrinsic work experience and global satisfaction. The second national survey scored the hospital most favorably on the following statements:

My job is more than just a paycheck to me.I devote a lot of energy to my job.I feel a strong personal connection with the mission of VA.I always do more than is actually required.

Veterans’ hospital officials said they aren’t surprised by the strong scores by employees. The survey results indicate employees within the Columbia facility are more satisfied with their jobs than employees working in other VA medical centers across the country.

In May, nearly 90 percent of veterans said they would recommend the Columbia location to other veterans when completing U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.‘s Veterans’ Customer Satisfaction Program. This score ranked the highest out of VA hospitals located in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Poplar Bluff and Fayetteville.

Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer for the veterans’ hospital, said that veterans from all over the country travel to the Columbia location for its reputation for good health care.

“The thing that stands out (at this hospital) is the caliber of our frontline employees,” Gaither said. “It’s not any pre-employment training. It’s a reflection of the community in which we live.”

Jannel Morris, who has been a medical assistant for the veterans’ hospital for the past six years, said that its location in the center of the state makes it a great option for veterans in many rural communities. In addition, there are a lot of passionate employees who love their job at the hospital, including herself, Morris said.

“I have a brother who is a veteran and I wasn’t able to be a veteran because of my disability,” said Morris, who is legally blind. “So this was a way to serve those who served us.”

Morris isn’t the only veterans’ hospital employee who embodied survey rankings such as “My job is more than just a paycheck to me,” and “I feel a strong personal connection with the mission of VA”.

Thomas Randoll, a physician who has been working for the health care system since his residency, which lasted from 2005 to 2008, said the patients and leadership within the organization are what make the veterans’ hospital a great place to work. Randoll exhibited an upbeat attitude and a strong passion for his role within the VA system. Randoll serves as a role model through his work as an attending physician who oversees resident physicians, Gaither said. He is also one of the physicians in charge of taking care of inpatients.

“I get paid to take care of veterans,” Randoll said. “I couldn’t think of a more rewarding place to work.”

It’s a privilege to help veterans ranging from those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan to those who served in World War II, Randoll explained. A lot of living history walks through the doors, he said, making him excited to come into each shift, whether he’s working in primary care, the emergency room or as a hospitalist.

Morris and Randoll aren’t the only employees who feel this way. Deedra McElroy, who has been a licensed practical nurse with the veterans’ hospital for 17 years, said her favorite aspect of working for the hospital is the interaction with the patients.

“This place has humbled me in more ways than one,” McElroy said. “There are things we take for granted. And being around veterans makes you appreciate your freedom and the work they’ve done.”

McElroy added that throughout her career at the hospital she’s had the opportunity to create a friendship and bond with many of her patients. Not only has her life been touched by the veterans’ camaraderie, but she explained that as her children have grown up, they’ve also had the opportunity to meet veterans and be humbled by those who have served our country.

On the right side of McElroy’s office hangs a beaded angel. She explained it is one of the many gifts her patients have given her throughout the years. The patients McElroy sees become like family to her, she said.

One of her goals is to prevent future patient illnesses or health complications by encouraging patients to make needed changes in their diets or exercise routines.

“I joke with them and they absolutely love it,” McElroy explained when asked how she helps patients make lifestyle choices that they may initially find difficult to alter.

McElroy said she has brought in cans of vegetables if patients need to add veggies to their diet. She takes the time to understand each patient’s needs, get them ready to see their primary care doctor and make sure each one leaves her office knowing what they need to do to stay healthy outside of the VA health care system.

A change in leadership has also been attributed to strengthening the health care system’s way of doing things. David Isaacks, who began working for the organization in June 2016, has really focused on employee engagement, Gaither said.

“My perspective of leadership is about being present and accessible to employees,” Isaacks said.

Isaacks said the veterans’ hospital had been known as a great hospital for years before he arrived. When he came on board, he thought that strengthening employee engagement would take the team to the next level.

Isaacks, who served in the Marine Corps, said his goal is to provide America’s heroes with the best care they can receive, and he knows it starts with the respect and care he shows his staff. He said he strives to recognize those who work hard, bring in modern technology to care for patients and stay in contact with everyone involved.

“The No. 1 driver for customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction,” Isaacks added.

Results from the survey will be used to further develop employee engagement plans for individual work areas, Gaither said. Last year the veterans’ hospital added a GEMBA board, which helps employees within individual departments bring new ideas to the table, fix any concerns they may have and communicate efficiently as a team.

“We want to invest in our employees,” Gaither said, “which in turn is an investment in our patients.”

Supervising editor is Mike Jenner: jennerm@missouri.edu, 884-2270.

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