Beyond doubt

In late March of 2007, Anthony M. Degina Jr. thought his staff was
going to face a sudden change.

At the time, Degina was the CEO of Cedars Medical Center, a
hospital connected to mammoth health systems operator HCA
Inc.

But the University of Miami, a long-time educational partner, had
signed a formal letter of intent to pursue the sale of the hospital
from HCA. With a potential change in ownership, and perhaps
daily operations, a feeling of excitement and apprehension temporarily seized the staff.

And then nothing happened.

For eight solid months, people working on both sides of the
negotiation just couldn’t get the details together. With the delay out
in public, it often felt as if the eventual decision on ownership was
constantly teetering. The stress of the deal could have meant total
turmoil for the more than 1,300 employees at what would eventually be called the University of Miami Hospital.

“If you look at how this evolved,” Degina, who stayed on as CEO,
says, “when the announcement was first made of the letter of
intent obviously … excitement builds, because while being an HCA
facility for a long period of time is a wonderful thing, (there’s)
excitement that built for the transition to the University of Miami.
Then, of course, the deal didn’t progress like everyone thought. So
keeping everyone focused on the instant mission was really what
was our challenge. So our communication was on staying focused
on the patients, and all the rest of the stuff will fall into place. And
whether this hospital winds up being owned by HCA or owned by
the University of Miami, you are what makes it special and as long
as you stay focused on taking care of the patients, taking care of
each other, we’ll be OK.”

So Degina and his leadership team turned up the frequency of
informal communication and focused on candor to push through
the transition. Degina also kept his focus on communications on
daily activities. Once employees knew enough to dispel rumors, he
put the onus on the mission at hand. As a result, when the hospital finally made its transformation into UMH at midnight on Dec.
1, employees were comfortable with what the change meant and
the overhaul was done smoothly — staff turnover rates hadn’t
spiked, and nearly 260 patients were discharged out of HCA’s system and checked in as the first set of UMH patients.

Here’s how Degina’s team used communication to push through
the tough times of transition.

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