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March 14, 2013 Volume 34, No. 23

MU Health Care employees earn their stripes during snow closures


Health care workers remain on the job despite extreme weather

They might not have been eating lobster and steak and sleeping on plush beds. But MU Health Care employees were taken care of, receiving bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner during the two February snowstorms.

Although most staff and faculty went home early Feb. 21 and didn’t work at all Feb. 22 and 26 when the university announced day closures, MU Health Care’s hospitals and emergency centers had a lean but effective group of employees on the job. After all, patients don’t stop needing care just because most of the population isn’t working. In fact, extreme weather can result in more emergency-room patients.

Keeping health centers open in times of peril requires preplanning, said Roger Higginbotham, director of support services. “If you just react, it won’t work well.” 

Between real events and exercises, the hospital used the emergency operations plan more than 20 times in 2012. Before the snow started, Higginbotham and Chris Smith, manager of communications and emergency preparedness, set up a command center and pulled together their staffs to make sure there would be enough staff, food and equipment to weather the storm. 

University Hospital and Clinics issued employees 220 cots during the storm beginning Feb. 21 and 170 during the Feb. 26 storm to make sure people such as Garrett Rucinski, an office support staff member, and David Weston, a registered nurse, could spend the night. MU’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital also provided lodging for 155 employees during the two storms. 

With many roads impassable, Rucinski stayed overnight Feb. 21. His wife, Kylee, walked a mile to the hospital to bring him boots before they walked home together at the end of his shift the next day. 

The command center activated a transportation center to coordinate and send drivers to bring more than 200 employees into the hospital. David Foley, a concierge, hopped in a hospital’s four-wheel drive vehicle and started making runs. 

“He’s always the first one to volunteer and the last one to go home,” Higginbotham said. 

If the new Culture of Yes initiative were in place, Rucinski, Weston and Foley would have earned their stripes, said Mitch Wasden, the CEO/COO of MU Health Care. 

The Culture of Yes emphasizes the need to care, deliver, innovate and serve. Part of the initiative is a recognition program called Earning Your Stripes, where employees receive a coupon for embodying The Culture of Yes. “ ‘Care’ is about the heart, ‘deliver’ is about getting results, ‘innovate’ is about creatively overcoming obstacles and ‘serve’ is about working together for a common goal,” said Wasden, who launched the initiative March 4. 

Wasden said employees who worked beyond their designated shift would have received a stripe for caring and employees who figured out how to get into work despite the road conditions would have received a stripe for innovating. When employees rack up enough stripes, they can cash them in for rewards, including movie tickets and gift cards. 

“Hundreds of employees earned their stripes during the storm,” Wasden said. 

— Kelsey Allen