Three Decades in the Rearview

Perspectives on Healthcare Week 2020

By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications

A neighbor one day mentioned there was an open position at Southwest Health. It was 1990, and I had just graduated with my second degree from UW Platteville. Though I never before saw myself staying in my hometown after graduation, I am delighted today that I managed way back then to see the opportunity. Applying for that job turned out to be a life-altering choice.

Jaime Collins

Like so many others with the privilege of never having to worry about health or health insurance, I never thought much about healthcare before then. It was just always there. Thirty years later, I have far greater perspectives to share. I recognize I still have much to learn, and I recognize healthcare has changed at least as much over that time as I have. We’re also all going through a global public health crisis that feels like it’s changed everything we thought we already knew.

This week (May 10 through 16) is Healthcare Week, a time to recognize our healthcare system and the people who make it all possible, so this feels like the right time to put into perspective some of what I’ve learned. Here are my top ten points:

  1. We are definitely in this together. This is a COVID-19 catch phrase, and it’s a catch phrase for a reason. It’s always been true and always will be. It takes great doctors and other clinicians AND loads of other great support people to make a great healthcare organization like Southwest Health. Yet our communities are a vital part of that, too. I feel this now more than ever with a virus threatening all of us everywhere we go. Truth is, our patients and everyone in our communities have always been part of the team. Our experts cannot single handedly keep you healthy and thriving. We all have a voice, and we all play a role. We are all responsible for keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities healthy, and no one can escape that fact. Some actions that fall in this category:
    • Adopt healthy habits for a healthier life.
    • Get involved in your care. Speak up and ask questions when you don’t understand.
    • Set an example for your kids, your neighbors, and everyone around you.
    • Get involved in your community and what happens in your community.
    • Treat each other with empathy, dignity, and respect. Everyone.
  1. Health care institutions are not all alike. I’ve seen first-hand the role leaders play in driving an organization like ours in the right direction. And I’ve seen how a whole hearted commitment to education, values, goals, and genuine teamwork combine to create a high-caliber organization. I’m hopeful that people in southwest Wisconsin understand the exceptional level of quality we have here at Southwest Health. Living here, we are incredibly fortunate to have the needed experts and truly great services – ranked among the nation’s very best – right here in our backyard. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s not the same where ever you go.
  1. Bigger is not better. Getting in the car and driving to a giant building somewhere doesn’t translate to better healthcare. Having to travel is a drawback in the first place. When we have truly exceptional people with exceptional experience and skill practically next door, that’s something remarkable. Something to appreciate. And though we’ve always been proud of the level of care, compassion, and kindness of our people, this is an organization that’s taken that to an entirely different level today.
  1. People are the source of our strength. Healthcare is about people. People helping other people. It’s hands on. I see it as a tremendously strong chain with many links, all of which need to be strong independently for the system to function well. Great healthcare is only possible when we take care of the people who do that work, when we ensure they are strong and resilient, when we make sure they have the tools and training they need to perform at high levels, and when we make certain every individual in that long and strong chain understands their individual responsibilities and the integrity and respect required of the job. That’s the foundation on which great healthcare is built. From this perspective, I’ve never seen a stronger chain or a stronger team than we have here today at Southwest Health.
  1. Systems are the OTHER source of our strength. As strong as a chain may be, the links need well-defined systems to operate efficiently, safely, and at high standards of quality. The
    COVID19 pandemic reveals that perhaps as clearly than anything. When we first saw it on the horizon, our leaders mobilized. We planned for the crisis and changed almost overnight, creating new systems to keep our workforce, our patients and visitors, and our community safe andwell (our website offers detail on this for curious minds). The team at Epione Pavilion is due special recognition here. With a facility full of people at higher risk, they saw the change that needed to happen, and they sprang into action. Action that without a shred of doubt saved many lives. They are currently one of just a handful of skilled long-term care nursing facilities in the State that remain COVID19 free. That is a live-saving accomplishment. Our people did this, and they did it operating within well-conceived, well-researched, and well-executed systems.
  1. Health Literacy. Every human is a unique individual, and we don’t all understand things the same way. The human body is complex. Health, medicine, and health care are all extremely complex. Some folks manage to navigate their lives in healthier ways than other folks, and that difference sometimes has something to do with education, yet even more often it has everything to do with tradition and culture. We can succeed at delivering the best medicine on Earth and still fail to keep someone from harm when they themselves fail for one of a multitude of possible reasons to follow, for example, their doctor’s or their pharmacist’s instructions. Health literacy includes:
    • Having knowledge around and accepting the value of healthy life habits.
    • Overcoming the obstacles that society, family, and culture throw in our way.
    • Understanding life and death health decisions.
    • Communication with clinical professionals.

I don’t have the answers to the health literacy equation, though I know it’s something I will work at solving for the rest of my career. We need conversations about health literacy. We need to engage our communities in raising it. Health literacy is a bridge to living one’s best life.

  1. It takes all of us. There is no aspect of society immune from making a significant impact on the health of our populations. Positive and negative impacts. The local economy and personal incomes, for example, are among the many social determinants of health. Our local health care system is extremely adept at helping folks when they are ill or injured or otherwise need care and attention. Every one of us in our lives beyond that system makes untold impacts on why so many people need the health care system in the first place.

That’s one of the reasons I’m proud of the economic impact Southwest Health makes on our communities. Tens of millions of dollars in wages and salaries and benefits each year flow into our region as a result of this not-for-profit organization’s growth and success. We don’t often stop to consider it, but those dollars, in turn, help keep our education and economy strong and, ultimately, make a profound impact on the health of our families and communities.

  1. Compassion and commitment. These words are bandied about quite a lot, but I’ve come to appreciate just how real their effect is. I read it in thank you notes our staff receives from patients and residents. Studies offer concrete proof of the healing power of outstanding personal care and attention. I hear it first-hand from people who’ve been through life threatening health situations. And I have personally experienced it myself in interactions with health care professionals who genuinely cared for me. Yes, it often comes quite naturally from within the hearts of people working in health care. And our team demonstrates every day that compassion and commitment can also be fostered and encouraged and boosted to become a tremendous force in our health care system. I have come to have a profound admiration for the care and commitment of the people on this healthcare team.
  1. Our rural mindset. It will serve us all to fully recognize that a rural setting like ours and a health care system nestled in the hills and valleys of rural southwest Wisconsin can, indeed, deliver truly world class care. Growing up here I heard time and again – sometimes in direct language and more often in subtle hints –that rural things just aren’t as good as that which comes from the city. We at Southwest Health are proving that wrong, and I see others in southwest Wisconsin doing likewise. That mindset is self-limiting, and once we shed it, anything is possible. Anything. Being rural doesn’t just mean we’re hard workers. Even here, we do actually have access to all the knowledge, expertise, tools and technology the world has to offer.
  1. Way more than a job. Three decades ago when I started in health care, I could never have imagined where we would be as a healthcare organization or how deeply I would feel about it. And in so many ways, we and me are just getting started. There’s an urgency here to always improve, always be learning, and always be providing safe, effective, quality care 100% of the time. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned here. My co-workers are incredible people. Being here among them makes me a better person. I recommend health care as a career to anyone, not just for the wide range of available jobs available across the globe. For me it’s more about the built-in personal rewards that come from being part of this amazing team doing amazing things for others.

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