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Are complaints piling up? First find out the facts
Tell employees what they must do to change
Vicki Lyons, patient access manager at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, KY, says that she goes to "every extreme" not to have to terminate an employee. That means always taking the time to find out the facts, whether a complaint comes from a patient, family member, or another hospital employee.
"I have called patients at home before to see if I can obtain more information on an incident," says Lyons. "I want to have all the facts before I confront the employee."
When multiple complaints come in for one particular employee, you should investigate by "interviewing the complainers," says Antionette Anderson, CHAA, CHAM, director of patient access & centralized scheduling at Skaggs Regional Health Center in Branson, MO. "Ensure that what they are saying is true. Also observe the employee that is being complained about."
Lyons says that she takes all complaints seriously. "You have some patients that just like to complain. But if it is something that bothers them, then it is worth looking into," says Lyons. "It may provide opportunities to change our process for the best to take better care of our patients."
Should a second chance be given?
Anderson says to take these steps after you get a complaint: Counsel the employee and find out why the situation happened, explain how things could and should be handled differently, complete a formal corrective action plan, and revisit with the employee within a week to see if things are better and how you can assist.
Anderson says she believes in a "three strikes and you're out" policy.
"Everyone deserves a second chance unless the employee has done something illegal, unethical, or intentionally meant to harm someone," she says. "But if we have worked with the employee and counseled them and they do not show any improvement or willingness to improve, termination is warranted."
Katie M. Davis, director of patient financial services at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, says that if someone comes in to complain about a co-worker, her first question is whether they have discussed it with the person they are complaining about. "Many times, issues can be resolved on a one-to-one level without management being involved," she says. "If the person is reluctant to approach their co-worker, I then investigate the incident as the situation warrants."
Getting the employee to "see" the issue is the only thing that helps turn a bad situation around, says Davis. "I'm not sure that 'second chances' work. An employee has to have a clear understanding of the root cause of the problem and what they need to do to correct it," she says.
The following steps occur if there are problems with an employee, says Davis: First, the employee is counseled. If the behavior does not stop, the next step is a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, a final written warning, and then termination.
"At any point in the process, we can skip a step if the behavior is egregious," says Davis.
When an employee receives counseling, an improvement plan is put into place with specific action items to help the employee improve. There is also a follow-up date for the employee and manager to sit down and discuss the employee's improvement or lack of improvement and any additional action steps that need to be implemented.
Davis says that a patient access manager's role is to support the employee and provide the tools to help them improve, but success or failure is ultimately the employee's responsibility.
"I have had employees who changed their behavior and have seen them become very successful," she says. "I have seen others who have not taken the responsibility for their actions continue to have problems and ultimately were terminated."
Use a self-improvement form
Suppose that a patient access employee has gotten several complaints from other departments about a rude attitude. These were addressed previously and yet, it has happened again. In this situation, at Baptist Hospital, the employee signs off on a written self-improvement plan.
"We then have documentation the employee has signed it, and if the issue continues, then further action is taken," says Lyons.
On the self-improvement form, the employee is told the issues that need to be corrected in a certain amount of time and is informed that if improvement is not shown then further action may be taken. "A couple of weeks before the time would expire, we re-visit with the employee to let them know how they are doing and see if they have any questions," says Lyons.
The form includes this information:
areas of deficiency;
required corrective action;
intervals at which re-assessment will be scheduled;
department manager's signature.
The form also states: "Failure to improve according to the guidelines of this performance improvement plan may lead to discharge. It is expected that the performance outlined on this improvement plan not only improve during the time period defined but also remains at an acceptable level after successful completion of the employee performance improvement plan. If performance deteriorates to an unacceptable level within a reasonable period of time and there is evidence of ongoing performance problems, the employee may be discharged without further performance improvement plans."
"I think that in writing up the self-improvement plan, the employee also knows that we are serious when we say their customer service has to improve," says Lyons.
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