The Service of a Financial Crunch—Part 2

March 17th, 2009

Categories: Accommodation, Attitude, Charity Begins at Home, Medical, Staffing

Greed may be rampant these days as evidenced by Ponzi and other schemes big and small crawling out of Wall Street’s woodwork and by unjustifiable bonuses provided by the public’s money, but so are generosity and a spirit of looking out for others.

Take the staff  at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen wrote about on March 12th. It’s a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and employs 8,000.

Cullen described what president and CEO Paul Levy said to his staff after touring the hospital for days, observing procedures big and small. He saw how caring and essential-to-healing the transporters, food-delivery, cleaning and maintenance men and women were to patient recovery.

I can vouch for that. A family member was in Lenox Hill Hospital in New York last summer where the woman who changed the sheets made us laugh and a guard, noting that we were freezing waiting for a test in a drafty, over-air conditioned hallway brought us blankets just warmed in a microwave oven. We hadn’t asked him—he volunteered.

Back to the president/CEO, whom Cullen quoted speaking with the staff at the Medical Center:

“I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” Levy began. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them.

“Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice,” he continued. “It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.”

“He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.”

Cullen ends the column:

“Paul Levy is trying something revolutionary, radical, maybe even impossible: He is trying to convince the people who work for him that the E in CEO can sometimes stand for empathy.”

You can read the rest:

Not every business has met with this attitude. A friend in Minnesota notes that the Teamsters involved in negotiations with the Star Tribune aren’t budging and she fears this intransigence may spell the end of a beloved newspaper.

Would you give up salary and/or benefits or fee under these circumstances? Should anyone be asked—or volunteer–to do this? What are the upsides and downsides?




3 Responses to “The Service of a Financial Crunch—Part 2”

  1. Amos Galbraith Said:

    You raise a timeless question. Should the marketplace determine compensation and workplace conditions or should a sense of perceived fairness unrelated to the profit motive? Is capitalism better than socialism?

    Medicine has made massive advances over the past few decades despite all that is wrong with the way the industry works, but at a monumental cost in money and mistakes made.

    There is something terribly wrong when it costs some insurance company over $4,000 because an old man slips on the ice and is taken to a hospital emergency room to find out that he has done himself no lasting harm. As is often the case, he really would have been just as well off if a GP had made a 20 minute house call and seen that there was nothing seriously wrong with him. The problem is there is no mechanism in place for GP’s to make house calls.

    What we really need are better medical managers who use common sense about how to deliver medical services to the public at a rational cost, and legal and accounting structures in the field that would help them do their job instead of setting up roadblocks for them to surmount. Whether they beat or kiss their employees may be a morally interesting question, but that is really a question of management style. The important thing is that they manage the business of delivering medical services efficiently, and that more people get well at less cost and with less suffering.

  2. David Reich Said:

    These tough times call for empathy — on all sides. If employees feel management really understands them and is honestly trying to trim costs fairly, most will support things like reduced hours, furloughs and pay reductions. Maybe not happily (who, after all, wants to live on less), but at least they’ll accept cutbacks. But if those employees see management spending needlessly or lavishly on other things, then all credibility – and empathy – is out the window.

    These days, many people should be happy they still have jobs.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I get the feeling that Paul Levy would be the last one to sign off on a high-priced remodeling project for his office or exorbitant junket for medical staff. A person sensitive to the nuances of patient care, as he seems to be, is also aware of the damage inappropriate spending can have.

    It amazes me how some people in corporations, supported by a flock of branding and image experts, can be so insensitive to the impact of their actions. Or had they fired that department?

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