A Patient-Focused Leader – Shendell-Falik Assumes President’s Role at Baystate

Patients and family members walking in the Daly Entrance at Baystate Medical Center are greeted by a large sign that reads: ‘Identify Your Caregivers by the Colors They Wear.”

Those words appear beside a picture of a smiling nurse wearing royal blue scrubs, the color chosen to designate the men and women in that profession. Meanwhile, those in radiology wear black, orderlies wear dark brown, those in rehab wear light gray, and so on.
This program involving standard attire, now in use across the Baystate Health system, which also includes Baystate Franklin Medical, Baystate Mary Lane, Baystate Noble, and Baystate Wing, was essentially the brainchild of Nancy Shendell-Falik, RN, MA — although she quickly adds that there was a large team that brought the concept to fruition.
Motivation for the standard colors was simple, said Shendell-Falik, recently named president of Baystate Medical Center and senior vice president for Hospital Operations at Baystate Health, who used a few anecdotes to get her main points across about the system’s desire to improve the overall experience for the patient and his or her family.
“One story that struck me concerned a father in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) who was waiting to speak to the surgeon who operated on the child,” she recalled. “A person in OR blue scrubs came in at 6 or 6:30 in the morning, and the father thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to get my questions answered,’ and the person proceeded to empty the garbage. This individual said how challenging it was to determine who was coming in and going out.”
She remembers that there was some minor resistance to the color-coding plan, mostly from individuals concerned about losing some of their individuality. She also remembers how almost all those with angst quickly came around on the concept.
“Now that they’ve lived it, a few have come back to say, ‘I totally get it,’” she told HCN. “Patients now understand who’s coming out in and out, and this provides a less-stressful environment, and employees understand that is how we support what our patients need.”
In many ways, the standardized-colors initiative and the reasons for it speak to Shendell-Falik’s preoccupation with the patient experience — and also effectively sum up a rather broad job description.
When asked to elaborate on it, she said her role comes down to helping the care teams at the system’s five hospitals and other operating platforms “focus on what matters to patients.”
Elaborating, she said this assignment is both an art and a science, and at its core it involves perhaps the most important — but often forgotten skill — in healthcare: Listening.
“Rather than just tell people what to do, we want to partner with patients to help them understand their options and respect their wishes,” said Shendell-Falik, who for the previous two years served in a dual position at Baystate Health as senior vice president/chief operating officer and chief nursing officer. “We’re really working on listening, and have been training people across our system on appreciative inquiry. So we’re focused on asking questions so we understand what’s really important and so we can connect with people on a personal level.
“This is a journey for us,” she went on. “We have a goal to be a ‘top 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in patient experience’ hospital by 2020, and the way to get there is to focus on that human connection, respect what patients want, and treat them as individuals.”
And by doing so, she intends to build a stronger, more flexible system able to respond quickly and effectively to the many changes coming to this industry.
“We are looking to work as a team that is united and aligned, and making decisions that are really building the strength of Baystate Health,” she explained. “We’re looking at how we can create the most sustainable future for Baystate, and how we should reinvest in our organization.”
For this issue, HCN talked at length with Shendell-Falik about her new roles and, more specifically, about her hard focus on the patient experience and how it manifests itself beyond the colors of the scrubs worn by the system’s employees.

Background: Check
By the time she arrived at Baystate in July 2013, Shendell-Falik already knew a good number of the people she was working beside — because they interviewed her for the job she was seeking.
“I must have interviewed with 50 people,” she said with a voice that resonated with pride and a sense of accomplishment. “Mark Tolosky (then president and CEO of Baystate Health) said I might have hit a new record.”
And that intense interviewing process left her not only with a sense of confidence — something that comes when you impress several dozen people enough to win a position that attracted hundreds of well-qualified candidates from across the country, if not around the world — but also a good dose of inspiration.
“I was really inspired by the people I met through that interviewing process,” she explained. “When I came out to Western Mass. I saw how Baystate had been very progressive in building the enterprise from ambulatory sites, physician practices, multiple hospitals, an insurance company (Health New England) … and was really forward thinking about how we move from a fee-for-service world into an environment that values population health.”
In October, Shendell-Falik was promoted to a position — president of Baystate Medical Center — that has traditionally been held by the president of the Baystate system, including the current holder of that title, Dr. Mark Keroack. However, with the recent expansion within the system, the need for this administrative change became apparent, she said.
“As we added two more hospitals, the system is now five hospitals,” she explained. “And with that came the belief that integration across all of the enterprise is really essential, and there needs to be a senior leader focused on that.”
Shendell-Falik brings to the position nearly 35 years of experience in the healthcare sector, in both direct patient care as a nurse, and in administration. She has spent much of the past 20 years in leading roles within the broad and ever-changing realm of patient care services.
She began her career at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center as a staff nurse in pediatrics. She quickly moved on to roles as head nurse in that department, head nurse of the Young Adult Unit, ‘patient care coordinator of the Young Adult & Independent Care Units,’ and ‘director of Nursing in the Maternal-Child & Pilot Nursing Unit.’
She then went to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, serving over the next seven years in a series of roles, culminating with assistant vice president of Nursing and Patient Services, which she held until 1998, before being recruited back Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
There, over the next 11 years, she served as vice president of Nursing, then president and senior vice president of Patient Care Services.
She held that same title — as well as chief nursing officer — at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she arrived in 2009 in an effort to “expand her horizons,” as she put it, after spending 22 years at Newark.
At Tufts, she led a number of initiatives to improve clinical quality, patient safety, and the patient experience.
Among many other accomplishments, she implemented a system of performance score cards across departments, served as executive sponsor of Tufts Patient and Family Advisory Council, and sponsored a unique, cutting edge leadership-education program.
A change at leadership at Tufts in 2012 and that facility’s continued struggles in the ultra-competitive Boston market — “they’re truly the underdog there” — prompted her to seek a change, as well as a specific role.
“Having been a chief nurse for 15 years at that time, I wanted to go to a place that was progressive enough to embrace a chief nursing officer and chief operating officer role,” she told HCN. “
That place turned out to be Baystate.

A Healthy Outlook
Actually, Baystate was the first facility to reach out to her — through an executive search firm, said Shendell-Falik, adding that as a result, this wasn’t a lengthy search for a new opportunity.
And that’s because of what holding those two titles together would likely mean in terms of implementing needed change and progress — especially in a welcoming environment like Baystate.
“This was the first time Baystate combined the chief nurse and the chief operating officer,” she recalled. “And I think that change resulted from the philosophy that when you look upon your product as patient care, and excellence in patient care is what you’re striving to achieve, it really helps when everyone is aligned — not only the clinicians, but the support services as well. And that role really helps promote that.”
But to serve in that role, she first had to navigate all those interviews.
If she did, in fact, set a record for most inquisitors, it was because that new position involved so many stakeholders — from dozens of direct reports to the physicians she would be working with day in and day out.
“I was physically back here three times, and two of them were multi-day episodes,” she recalled, adding that there were a number of group interviews.
Over the past two years — during which, as COO and CNO (chief nursing officer) she became the first nurse to sit on the system president’s cabinet — Shendell-Falik has worked with those who interviewed her to implement a number of changes and new programs, the so-called ‘standard attire’ initiative being the most visible, both literally and figuratively. Those efforts resulted in Baystate Medical Center being named to an elite group of high-performing hospitals by U.S. News and World Report for 2015-16.
Looking ahead, she said the now larger system — it has added Wing and Noble since she arrived — has to keep a continued focus on patient services and how to improve them, because despite Baystate’s growing presence, patients ultimately have choices about where they go to receive care.
To bring area residents to Baystate’s hospitals, she went, the system has to focus on consistency across the network, quality of care, and that all-important quality — value.
Shendell-Falik said her 35 years of experience on the front lines, in administration, and, specifically, patient-care services, have helped ready her for work leading Baystate Medical Center and the entire system through this period of profound change within the healthcare universe, a time, as she said, marked by movement away from the fee-for-service model that has been in place for so long and toward population health.
And she noted that many of those she’s working with, including Keroack, have similar backgrounds with direct patient care followed by years of leading others providing such care.
“It’s an easy conversation to help explain what you need people to do or how you create a vision, because you understand what it takes to care for patients,” she said of her diverse background and that enjoyed by so many others now in healthcare administration. “The years I had as a hands-on provider will always be near and dear to me. And they really created my value system of being a very patient-centered leader.
“I think you also gain credibility when you are able to understand the work of providing direct patient care — and also ask people to be good stewards of the organization,” she went on. “Whether that’s ensuring the most effective utilization of our resources, or helping people understand that the patient experience is extremely important today and it’s not something that sits on a back burner.”

Forward Progress
As she talked about her new role — as well as her old one — at Baystate, Shendell-Falik recalled a conversation she had with one of the medical center’s nurses at a donor reception.
“She came up to me and said ‘I’ve worked at Baystate for more than 40 years; I can now retire because I know there is a nurse at the president’s cabinet table.”
Now, that nurse not only has a seat at the table, but an even more prominent seat as president of the medical center. She intends to use it to create consistency across the system’s many platforms and continue the needed focus on the patient experience.
That includes the colors of the uniforms being worn by the various departments, but that’s only a small part of the story.

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