Vidant Health Chief Experience Officer Dr. Julie Oehlert took time recently to discuss the Vidant system, nursing and innovation on the podcast series SEE YOU NOW.

Johnson & Johnson and the American Nurses Association launched SEE YOU NOW, a storytelling podcast that highlights innovative and human-centered solutions driven by nurses. The podcast addresses today’s most challenging health care problems.

Changing a culture

During her time on the podcast, Dr. Oehlert reflected on the importance of a positive culture in health care and how a strong culture can lead to improved patient and team member experience. When she first arrived at Vidant, she noticed the organization’s culture had room for improvement—including a shift from a “power-over” to a “power-with.” Dr. Oehlert said she focused most of the work in her first two or three years in the system on team members, love, empathy and bringing those elements into relationships so that a new, loving culture could emerge.

“It’s very clear in the science that one type of culture begets certain things and another type of culture doesn’t,” Dr. Oehlert said. “So in a power-with culture, you get a lot of innovation, empathy and compassion. You usually have good mentorship, good talent management, you have shared decision making, great patient experiences, good quality outcomes and people aren’t afraid to report near misses. That culture will deliver results that everyone in health care wants.”

As this desired culture became a reality at Vidant, it built a foundation for resilience in the eight-hospital health system and the more than 13,000 team members. Resilience is necessary at all times in health care to face the various daily challenges, especially in rural health care. But as a pandemic closed in, its importance was magnified.

Delivering health care in rural areas

Dr. Oehlert said delivering health care in rural areas is a challenge Vidant faces every day. The communities Vidant serves face many of the same problems other rural health systems see, along with its own unique challenges.

“People can’t get places, people don’t have access to things that they need or want. Anywhere where there are rural environments, in those kind of forgotten places anywhere in the world, these challenges would be the same,” Dr. Oehlert said. “When you’re in an urban environment, you’re 10 minutes from a resource. Here, you could be an hour and a half from a resource. That brings with it a lot of really interesting possible solutions.”

One of those solutions for Vidant is keeping resources out in the communities that need them. With regional hospital and clinic locations, she said Vidant can keep care and resources as close to home as possible for patients and families throughout a 29-county service area.

Adapting in a crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for care and resources close to home much more important. Dr. Oehlert said a key innovation since the onset of the pandemic has been clinic pop-ups throughout eastern North Carolina.

These community health events bring crucial services, screenings and resources to areas that need them. Talent recruitment is another important service provided during these community events.

“We always bring a recruitment person. So we actually give people jobs, which is what our communities’ want, so we hire right out of these community events,” Dr. Oehlert said. “Then as soon as our entry-level workers get here, we say, ‘What else would you like to be? What else would you dream of doing?’ We do a lot of really relational recruitment right from our low-trust communities.”

Giving team members the room and resources to grow through various programs, like the HomeGrown program, is one way Vidant makes an effort to invest in its team members.

Innovating together

COVID-19 has changed the typical way of doing business across all industries, and health care is no different. Innovation often is born during crisis and desperation and Dr. Oehlert said that while health care is changing and innovating rapidly, advice from a mentor gives her comfort.

“Teddie Potter used to say very kindly to me when things were very chaotic, ‘Julie, sometimes things have to disassemble before they reassemble.’ That gives me some peace because health care is disassembling, but it’s only disassembling so we can reassemble it in a much better, more loving, more caring way that is exactly where we need to head for health care to be what we need it to be for our future,” Dr. Oehlert said.

Dr. Oehlert said while health care moves forward, it will be crucial to keep nurses involved in discussions around innovation because of their unique perspective and connection to the patients they serve.

“They can do it with love and empathy and joy and hope as well as having the technical and scientific expertise,” Dr. Oehlert said. “That’s the beauty of nursing, it’s a heart job but it’s a science job.”

Looking for more?

Find and listen to the SEE YOU NOW podcast, Episode 61. Reporting Powers: Insights in Action wherever you get your podcasts.