Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 7, 2009
Our View - Time to cancel UIHC's trip to Disney Institute
When Republican state legislators began complaining Thursday about the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics' plan to spend $130,000 to send hospital officials for a training session at Walt Disney World Resort, the only response from UI officials should have been: "You're right. That doesn't pass the common sense test. At a time when the state is slashing budgets and the hospital is facing budget cuts, this absolutely is the wrong time to implement this program."
Instead, UI officials actually have been trying to defend the decision as a necessary "small investment" that will reap big rewards in improving the hospital's low scores in patient satisfaction. In an e-mail sent throughout the UI community, the top hospital brass tried to spin the $130,000 as a good deal for the hospital. (After all, they argued, bringing hospital staff to the Disney Institute would cost a lot less than bringing the Disney Institute consultants to Iowa.)
To make the case for why UIHC needs to be Disneyfied, the e-mail linked to three PR testimonials on how the Disney Institute has "partnered" with other hospitals on their "journey to excellence."
• Back in 2001, the Arkansas Children's Hospital was struggling with the recruitment of critical staff, and its series of short-term fixes weren't correcting the problem. After the hospital took its senior management team for the Disney Institute's "Excellence in Healthcare Leadership" program -- which included visiting Disney sites and spending a short time as Disney "Cast Members" -- the management team was able to brainstorm ways to improve their retention efforts. (www.disneyinstitute.com/About_Us/PDFs/DI_CaseStudy_ArkansasChildrenHospital.pdf).
• Back in 1992, the University of Chicago Hospitals was experiencing similar problems with employee turnover and patient satisfaction. They too sent a team to the Disney Institute to "learn how to keep a balance between providing customer service excellence and having fun on the job." And the results were so positive that, in 1998, Disney Institute reciprocated by presenting University of Chicago Hospitals with its "coveted Mousker Award" for delivering outstanding service to patients and customers (www.disneyinstitute.com/About_Us/PDFs/DI_CaseStudy_UniversityChicagoHospitals.pdf).
• Back in 1995, National Rehabilitation Hospital was going through a period of restructuring and downsizing, which triggered more patient complaints and staff distrust. Its senior management went to a 3½-day course at the Disney Institute and -- full of happy thoughts and a little pixie dust -- were able to implement a "cultural change" at the hospital. They learned how to hire the right people, to train and empower their employees, how to "inform and inspire," how to "define and reinforce a positive culture," yada, yada, yada (www.disneyinstitute.com/About_Us/PDFs/DI_CaseStudy_NationalRehabHospital.pdf).
But this isn't the 1990s when money was much more flush and hiring a consultant was the hip thing to do. This isn't even the start of the 21st century. This is the end of the first decade of the 21st century, when people are losing jobs left and right, and the so-called "small investment" of $130,000 represents nearly three times the annual salary of the average Iowa family.
We're all for UIHC changing its culture to improve patient care. But right now we can see only one benefit to UIHC officials visiting the happiest place while on Iowa is on budget-slashing roller-coaster ride: It will help bring together two normally at-odds groups, union leaders and Republican legislators, as they find common ground in how understandably appalled they are over this decision.