The training department's challenge at University Health System is nothing less than reawakening each employee's passion to serve. It's just a simple culture transformation, that's all.

As a large public health system that provides care from 24 locations across San Antonio, Texas, and the Bexar County area, University Health System greets an imposing array of training challenges every day. Now, factor in these recent additions to the mix: a mammoth and disruptive construction project at its main campus, a major expansion into an acute care medical specialty, and lower-than-desired patient satisfaction scores. Training challenges all. Sounds imposing, doesn't it?

Fortunately, these and other training assignments are the domain of a most competent team of training professionals. Consider them just part of a day's work for the tireless learning and development crew.

"It's an ongoing challenge to train a staff that works in a 24/7 patient care environment," says Jacqueline Burandt, executive director of the Center for Learning Excellence. "We try our best to be creative, especially with e-learning, but that's not a panacea for every subject or competency."

Yet creativity is a well-known characteristic of the department, as it demonstrates daily.

For example, in April 2014 the institution opened its new 10-story Sky Tower, a 1 million square-foot complex that dramatically expands its patient care abilities. The move brought a merciful close to a disruptive six-year construction project that created enormous upheaval throughout the facility. Live training suffered dramatically with the loss of classrooms and parking capabilities to construction.

As the project proceeded, the training department noticed that its existing portfolio of e-learning courses and videos was receiving less-than-optimal use from personnel. So it decided to address both issues last year with an intense learning campaign around modules and videos on such topics as compliance, patient care, customer service, and cultural diversity.

Called the Summer Learning Olympics, the campaign included an array of learning events tied to the theme and supported by an intranet marketing blitz. Examples include "Go for the Gold," which promoted its Coaching for Accountability series for supervisors. Employees who completed their assigned courses became eligible to win two season tickets to a nearby SeaWorld park worth $250.

Burandt says the campaign's completion rate was double that of the previous summer, while learners also took advantage of opportunities to complete their annual compliance training and explore other topics. In addition, the hospital saved roughly $16,000 in travel costs by using online and video-based learning, she says.

Historically, patient satisfaction scores at University Health System had lagged behind quality of care scores. The training department responded to these customer service issues in 2012 by partnering with the patient experience department to develop "New U," a culture transformation initiative that emphasizes superior service through compassion, courtesy, and respect. New U training is required of every employee and has been incorporated within all new employee onboarding. The initiative "takes employees back to the basics" to reignite their passion for healthcare, Burandt says.

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The New U program is rooted in the institution's cardinal business strategy known as Triple Aim Plus, which defines its overall dedication to improving patient experience, quality, efficiency, and access. Triple Aim Plus is "hardwired" into all L&D efforts from needs assessment to content development, delivery mode, evaluations, and other functions, explains Burandt. She says the New U effort is supported by an extensive learning initiative called Four Steps to Personal Accountability that is built around Triple Aim Plus goals.

Contributions from Triple Aim Plus and New U are vividly on display in University Health System's recent decision to roll out a new core capability in pediatric care. The initiative convenes medical specialists in a one-stop center for children with both routine and severe medical needs. It is designed as a key ingredient of the facility's focus on family-centered continuity of care that can span an individual's lifetime.

The expansion and its preparation presented a variety of ramp-up challenges for the training department. They included orienting some 400 new hires to staff services, revamping new employee orientation to include pediatrics, establishing a pediatric life support training program, and launching the New Directors' Mentor Program. All training was overseen by Burandt; Theresa Scepanski, senior vice president and chief administrative officer; and Michelle Ryerson, chief nursing officer for pediatric clinical services.

University Health System has a proud history operating an American Heart Association training center, but pediatric advanced care is a "whole different ball game," says Burandt. Training programs to support the initiative included selective marathon boot camps and multiday intensive courses. The training team also facilitated inter-professional communications among pharmacists, nurses, and physicians to ensure patient safety.

"Everything we do must align directly with one of the Triple Aim Plus goals, or we won't do it," Burandt explains. "It's critical to remain focused on specific goals, and achieving them in the most efficient way."

An indirect way to speak with patients about their care, and also lower the rate of costly readmissions, is explained in a training guide for healthcare providers called "Scenarios for Success in Patient Communication." It is a brochure containing 20 scenarios on how to speak with patients in an easily understandable way about taking their medication, changing dressings, and other relevant topics.

Available as a PDF and given free to the healthcare community on behalf of patients and staff, it has become a popular item with healthcare professionals nationwide, says Burandt. A follow-up book will focus on diabetes-related scenarios, she says.

View the entire list of 2014 BEST Award winners.