As president and CEO of Parma Community General Hospital, she views the independence as an advantage.
Physician groups that want to remain independent of the large health systems are attracted to the hospital and bring their patients with them to the 339-bed, not-for-profit facility. Its smaller size Parma Hospital employs about 2,400 people allows Ruflin to walk the halls on a regular basis, interacting with staff members, doctors and patients to gain valuable input on how to improve operations, working conditions and most important, the quality of care.
Ruflin, who joined the hospital in 1993 as vice president of quality services, has a background in nursing, counseling and organizational development, giving her insight into the experiences of many of the groups she leads.
Leading a hospital is no easy task. You have an end product that can range from treatment for a broken leg to easing the suffering of someone with terminal cancer. Your employees range from heart surgeons to groundskeepers, but despite the differences in skill sets and outcomes, Ruflin has to get everyone working together toward common goals.
“It’s like a symphony,” says Ruflin. “Some days I feel like I’m raising the violins, then the tubas and so on. It works if you build relationships. That’s a part of the job I really like. I like it as much when I’m building relationships with the folks in environmental services as I do with the physicians because it takes all of us to really make it work.”
Smart Business sat down with Ruflin to talk about leading a diverse organization toward common goals.
How do you get a highly-educated work force that is trained to be independent-thinking to follow your lead?
I have a motto that I use that I think says it pretty well. I think that people do some things in an OK way if they are required to do them and do great things when they are inspired to do them.
I think it’s really important to keep people engaged first, then inspired by the goals we put in place. We have to find a way to integrate personal goals of all kinds of people with our bigger organizational goals.
I think for the doctors in particular there is an engagement that is based on a common philosophy for Parma Hospital and our physicians. We have both chosen to operate independently. We’ve actually added significantly to our medical staff because there are many physicians who want to practice independently. It’s not in terms of just one doctor, but they or their group do not want to be part of a system.
It’s not uncommon for a walk through the hospital to take me a couple of hours because I’m stopping and talking and finding out what’s going on with people in all kinds of areas.
How important is building relationships and being out there in the hospital?
I don’t like second-hand, third-hand or fourth-hand outreach. I like to do it myself. I feel I have a message that I have and I want to convey the message. I can’t do it on every single little thing, but I try to do it on the big things.
Then I can answer their questions, and I think it builds some trust. It’s easy for executives to hide in his or her office and send out, ‘This is what we’re going to do’ memos.
It is really much more effective to bring people together our way. (I tell them) this is what I feel we need to do, you tell me how we can do it.
People have a lot of wonderful ideas. It’s not that I take votes on whether we are going to do it or not, I don’t; in fact, I consider myself more consultative than democratic in my leadership style. I gather information constantly. People know I do that, and I’m always picking their brains, then I’ll make a decision.
The ideas and recommendations they have really do count, but it’s when it’s all put together and I bring some context out of it that it makes for the best decision.
For example, we made the decision to be smoke-free. I sent a survey around to every employee in the last round of paychecks. I know most people feel we should be smoke-free. I pretty much knew what the surveys would come back saying.
But it is so much better to let them have a say-so and set a date. We can say this is what we heard and what you said, and here’s how we are going about it.
At most, it takes us a month or two longer, but I think it will go much more smoothly.
It’s better for them to hear that their own peers want this to happen.
Do you meet with specific groups to help foster those relationships?
I like to go to staff meetings to make sure I get into the dynamics of their group and I have a chance to see how they interact with each other as well as me. I do make a point of having conversations one-on-one with individuals whenever I have an opportunity.
I think people have a lot to say. They have a lot of good ideas, and there are a lot of opportunities here to see and hear what they say would make their jobs go better and make things work better in the hospital.
I also do patient rounding and have asked my executive team to do patient rounding. If you work at Ford and you are an executive, you know what every model of Ford looks like. In a hospital and as a nonclinical executive, you need to know what a patient looks like and what their situation is.
People are surprised when I come in and I say, ‘I’m the CEO and I’m here to see how your stay is going.’ That’s what’s really great about a hospital like this. It takes a little juggling of my schedule, but I always manage to get out at least once a week.
When employees complain about a decision that’s been made, it provides an opportunity to help people understand the reasons a little bit. I can say, ‘It looks like we don’t agree, but let’s see how it works out. Give us a chance to follow it and see if it was the right decision.’
Does being honest with your employees create a culture based on trust?
I think you have to be really candid, and not just when you want to but even when you don’t want to. It’s easy to be honest about the good things but not when you are dealing with difficulties. Doing that helps build trust.
How does the culture you’ve created help your organization succeed?
How I see it from the 30,000 foot view: If I can continue to get a family-team response from what is a fairly large organization and operated with big-business savvy, we will succeed. We have some really bright people in the organization that offer a lot to me in terms of support for good business, and the other piece that I think is a big part of it is to keep the culture so that it is open and a little bit transparent so people feel comfortable.
I want people to feel like they know me and they can have some say-so about how things operate. It takes more thoughtfulness in how you do it, but it really is so worthwhile to do it that way.
How to reach: Parma Hospital, www.parmahospital.org or (440) 743-4000