Teamwork: Key to Excellent Patient Care
A shared passion for caring. A sense of purpose. Mutual admiration. A feeling of family.
Even possessing just one of these traits would help create a cohesive team. The hospice care team at VITAS in South Jersey, however, embodies all of these characteristics and more. The work they do and the way they work together are both inspirational and aspirational.
“We're a family. We take care of each other,” says Patient Care Administrator Sandra Melendez, RN, who oversees the clinical care for the region. “When there's a problem, it's our problem. I often say it takes a village. Hospice is not a one-man show.”
The VITAS Team Structure
The VITAS interdisciplinary hospice care team is composed of specially trained healthcare professionals, including:
- Health aides
- Social workers
- Bereavement specialists
Team members work together, bringing their own strengths and expertise to the field, pitching in as needed.
“Knowing that you're just a phone call away from the rest of the team is especially important in hospice,” says Team Manager Sharon Smeltzer, RN. “The family members are there. If you recognize that they need support or somebody's having a hard time coping, you can call the chaplain, you can call the social worker. There's a lot of support.”
People want to feel that they're cared about, appreciated, and acknowledged.-Sandra Melendez, RN, VITAS patient care administrator
Now, as a team manager, Sharon is able to provide that support to her case managers—people like Emmanuel “Manny” Mojica, RN, a home care nurse.
“I'm always on the phone with Sharon. She’s very good at pacifying situations,” he says. “When things pop up, she's always that calm voice on the other end of the line. It’s comforting knowing she’s there.”
The admiration goes both ways. “Manny is amazingly compassionate. He is motivated. He's always so eager to help,” Sharon says. “He could have eight visits on his schedule for one day and you call him with an issue or concern and he just would totally rearrange his schedule. He definitely has your back.”
Sandra agrees. “Manny is a ray of sunshine,” she says. “He's just very warm and compassionate with his patients. And it shows, it's evident by the feedback that we get from the families.”
How Leaders Foster a Culture of Teamwork
Committed to leading by example, Sandra and Sharon ensure they are accessible to their team members.
“I think it's really important to be present and to acknowledge and to know a little bit about all of them,” says Sandra, who has also worked as a hospice nurse. “People want to feel that they're cared about, appreciated, and acknowledged.”
“Sandra is very down to earth and very accessible,” Manny says. “She knows what I'm talking about as an RN. That always helps because we're working together as two RNs to solve a problem.”
As a team manager, Sharon understands her role in creating a strong culture. “Working in hospice, you definitely have to have a lot of compassion, a lot of patience, a lot of dedication,” she says. “Communicating, listening, and providing feedback plays a very big part in my role as team manager.”
She’s clearly doing something right. “Sharon is phenomenal,” says Sandra. “She’s just so on point. I call her the paperwork police, because she will hunt you down if you're missing a plan of care review.”
Providing Emotional Support to Each Other
When the team bond is strong, patients and their loved ones benefit—but so do the team members themselves.
“They take care of each other,” Sandra says. “If one person calls out, I don't even need to tell them. They're already covering her work.”
A supportive team is particularly important, given the emotional nature of caring for hospice patients.
“There's a great deal of emotion that's involved with being a hospice nurse,” Manny says. “Whenever we meet, we get down to business, but it's also an open forum for expression, and they always allow me to verbalize my grief a little bit.”
Says Sharon, “The people I work with are all genuine in what they do and they love what they do and they have so much passion for what they do.”