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Providence executive finds ministry in interactions with staff, patients

by Sue Orlowski, SP

Alex Jackson sees his CEO role as a ministry.

Alex Jackson sees his role as chief executive of Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, and Holy Family Hospital as a ministry.

Since beginning at the hospitals in 2013, he has sought to make a difference in the lives of people and health care in the Inland Northwest.

He followed Elaine Couture, who was promoted to chief executive for all Providence Health Care’s 11 entities. 

“It’s a ministry where I can demonstrate through my life, and through interactions with staff and people the institutions serve, that God is real,” he said.

“I don’t have to be a different person to work here,” Alex said.  “I work with my heart, as well as my head.  That is what Providence Health and Services are to do as we provide accessible, affordable, quality care.

Alex considers health care a ministry of serving people’s physical, personal and spiritual needs.

“Our priorities are clear.  We place justice, compassion, and service to poor and vulnerable persons first,” he said.

“Hospitals are sacred places. It is a privilege to care for people during their best, as well as their darkest moments.  We also care for people during the most blessed moments of their lives: the birth of a child, caring for a sick patient and saying goodbye to a loved one,” Alex said.

The vision guiding Providence ministries is: “Together, we answer the call of every person we serve: Know me, care for me, ease my way.”

This vision helps him guide staff to provide ministry through safe, effective, compassionate, quality care. 

Alex starts each day meeting with leaders from both Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospitals in what he calls “daily safety huddles.”

“In these meetings, I bring leaders together from the hospitals to review safety issues and concerns from the day before.  The leaders are present in the moment, which enables the team to mobilize people and resources to fix a problem as soon as possible,” he said.

Another spin-off from safety huddles is that they create a greater sense of community among hospital leaders.

Alex’s servant leadership style of management includes making regular rounds to listen to and solicit feedback from staff, physicians, nurses and patients.

One day on his rounds, he heard concern that a piece of equipment was reaching the end of its usefulness.  He asked employees about the operational implications and incorporated that feedback to bring a resolution. 

Using both consumer-driven and professional-staff-driven approaches, Alex knows from the people affected by decisions how they feel so he can identify future changes to be made.

By being present with people, he hopes they will consider him a mentor and friend. Knowing people personally, he hand writes many thank you notes, especially when a person represents the core values in their work, he said.

 He believes it makes a difference to compliment staff when they do a good job.

 “I am excited to see people grow and come together to complete a job.  I invest in people and relationships, bringing people together to solve problems,” he said.  “When staff are invited to help solve problems as they arise, they are more apt to give input when other issues arise.”

When he was leaving St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., a staff member said she would pray for him, because he took an interest in people.  He felt her prayers helped him through his early days in Spokane.

Alex’s Catholic roots and faith motivate him.

“Health care is in a dynamic time because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the explosion of technology,” he said, noting that the ACA has given millions more Americans access to health insurance, increasing demand for services.

To meet that demand, Providence Health and Services invested in three Urgent Care Centers: one in Spokane Valley, one in North Spokane and one down the hill from Sacred Heart Medical Center. Providence also hired more primary care physicians and staff.

Alex also sees more use of Providence services in primary care, specialty care, urgent care, emergency care, inpatient admissions, baby deliveries and other procedures performed.

“Providence continues to innovate to provide greater access to care at lower cost for patients,” he said. 

Patients can use their computers, smart phones and tablets for private conversations with health care providers through “Health Express.” They can also access personal medical records online through the application of “MyChart.”

With these services and urgent care centers, fewer patients use emergency rooms for non-emergent issues.

“These services are considerably less expensive, more convenient and take less time,” said Alex, whose passion is “to reveal God’s love for all, especially the poor and vulnerable.”

He hopes that in Spokane, as in Portland, there will be more positive clinical outcomes, shorter stays, lower infection rates, and greater patient and staff satisfaction. Those savings free more money for charity care, he said.

A Montana native, Alex earned a master’s degree in health care administration from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed an administrative fellowship at The Cleveland Clinic.

Then he wanted to return to his roots in the Northwest and felt called to work in Catholic health.

 Alex is pleased to continue a tradition of caring through a mission- and value-driven institution, founded on the legacy of the Sisters of Providence, who have served the Inland Northwest for nearly 130 years.

Sacred Heart Medical Center was founded by Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, whose statue represents Washington State in the U.S. Capitol and the capitol building in Olympia.

When the first 31-bed hospital was started in 1886, it was on the Spokane River where the INB Performing Arts Center now sits. 

At that spot, there are statues representing a Sister of Providence and a worker building that first hospital.  

Sacred Heart has grown to become a major regional medical center with transplant, adult and pediatric trauma centers, and the only Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Eastern Washington. 

Employees still identify their work as a ministry “of revealing God’s love for all through the core values of respect, compassion, justice, excellence and stewardship,” he said.

Alex believes his attitude and hard work make a difference in his life and in the lives of others.

“Patients feel vulnerable at some point during their care, so empathetic communication is critical, as well as reliable systems, processes, equipment and teamwork,” he said.

Inpatient satisfaction scores reached their highest levels ever in 2015 at both facilities, he said.

Managing expenses is another role.  Under the ACA, he said, there has been a decrease in payments to all hospitals nationally, including Providence.

“We focus on quality care at a reduced cost for both outpatient and inpatient services,” he said.

Reducing infection rates and patient falls means fewer medications, requesting fewer x-rays and shorter hospital stays, he said.

“Being called to provide care with compassion, respect, excellence, justice and stewardship, I feel I’m part of that sacred ministry,” he repeated.

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