Staff Engagement: How One RT Department is Getting it Right

Image of two nurses talking

Baptist Health La Grange is a 90-bed hospital in La Grange, KY, and is part of the nine-facility Baptist Health system. It serves a five-county area and sees about 140,000 patients each year.

Lisa Houle, MS, RRT, is the director of the respiratory care department and an avid believer in taking positive steps to keep her staff engaged and on the job. It’s working. Her average staff tenure is more than 14 years, and while she admits she has had turnover, most of the time, when people leave, it is simply to go to a position that better meets their needs regarding shift assignments or hours worked.

They don’t leave because they are unhappy with the department. Houle credits that to the initiatives the department and health system have implemented to ensure people are satisfied with their jobs.

System-wide initiatives

“I’ve been trying to do activities with my staff since I started working at Baptist Health LaGrange,” said Houle. “Staff members need to know we are right there beside them to help them through tough times. It is amazing how the simple things we do really helped to build a solid department.”

She doesn’t do it alone. She collaborates with the RT directors at the other Baptist Health facilities. She has also teamed up with one of her staff members, Debbie Sullivan, CRT, to create activities and manage the overall engagement initiatives.

“The activities we do help to bring our department together,” said Sullivan. “While we may have particular friends in the department, these activities build our relationships beyond our friendships, and everyone knows each of us will be there to support throughout any issue.”

What activities do Houle, Sullivan, and the Baptist Health RT team plan for their therapists? On a system level, the Respiratory Resource Council, which is made up of RT leaders in the individual facilities, has —

  • Established a call for recognition of staff by leadership at the monthly staff meeting. Things like newly earned RRTs, specialty credentials, new hires, and new positions are touted so that all can take part in congratulating the accomplishments of their peers. They also encourage system leaders to send emails or e-cards to those celebrating a new accomplishment through the system’s HR portal so that the recognition crosses facilities.
  • Developed a “Collaboration for Excellence” CEU program based on input from a survey that went out to therapists across the Baptist Health system. The program is exclusively for RTs.
  • Created an “Inspiration Award” that honors one therapist in the system each year who exemplifies leadership, clinical expertise, and professionalism. Three of the four winners so far have come from Baptist Health La Grange, and they mark the accomplishment with a trophy, party, and free trip to the Kentucky Society for Respiratory Care annual conference for the winner.
  • Conducted a survey of RTs across the system to determine what they are looking for in their jobs. Results showed therapists are craving respect and recognition, and now RT leaders have partnered with system HR professionals to discover ways to deliver it that will match the RT’s needs.
  • Encouraged RTs across the system to join together for events impacting lung health in the community. So far, they’ve recruited staff members to participate in an advocacy day at the state capitol in February, created an American Lung Association Fight for Air team called “Better Breathing with Baptist Health,” and plan to participate in the Louisville KY Climb on Mar. 26.

Small things matter too

But that’s just the system-wide initiatives. Houle and Sullivan are working within their own department as well to make sure staff feel appreciated and take some time out for a bit of fun with their colleagues inside and outside of respiratory care on a smaller scale as well.

These activities can take the form of anything from setting out a bag of dark chocolates on Dark Chocolate Day to getting everyone to post pictures of their favorite veterans on Veteran’s Day or distributing colorful beads in celebration of Mardi Gras.

Houle sends everyone a birthday card on their birthday as well — not via email, but a card to their home mailboxes.

“I have a small department, and in today’s environment, it is important to retain quality RTs who are dedicated to our patients and organization,” she said. “Doing these activities has also helped staff understand more about each other and get to know me, as well as me knowing them, and this has led to working through several issues which could have led to additional turnover.”

Sullivan says her fellow staff members enjoy the activities she and Houle pull together. “It has helped us develop better relationships within our department and also has helped us to connect to our peers across the facility — nursing, radiology, lab, PT/OT/speech, pharmacy, etc.,” she said. “We need to operate as a team for our patients, and doing these simple things has helped us build that connection.”

Having Sullivan on board has been key to success, said Houle. “Once I proposed the idea of helping me to Debbie, things have really taken off,” she said. “It’s good to know what the staff want and need to feel supported, so having her input has been invaluable in meeting the needs of the staff members and having fun with what we are doing.”

What does your department do to engage staff and keep them happy on the job? Start the discussion on the AARC Specialty Section discussion lists and/or the AARC Help Line on AARConnect.

Heading to the New Era

Elevate | Engage | Advocate | Educate