A Strong Start for Unit Based Teams

The first ever UBT Co-Lead Peer-Learning event opened with SHARE Union organizer Janet Wilder thanking everyone in the room. Janet said that the newly defined relationship between SHARE members and managers is the most important language in our contract as we aim to improve the culture of our hospital. She explained that Unit-Based Teams are the cornerstone of that agreement, the most concrete and hopeful effort toward changing how it feels to work here.

Janet is the SHARE Tri-Chair of our Labor-Management Partnership Council, along with Bart Metzger, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Jeff Smith, Chief Operating Officer,

who also

kicked off the

meeting by talking about the importance of UBTs. Jeff Smith said that involving front-line staff in fixing the problem is better than the alternative: “I could give you an answer quickly, but it would be a bad solution.”

The first UBT Peer Learning Session brought together UBT Co-Sponsors and Co-Leads from SHARE, along with their management counterparts, as well as representatives from CITC, HR, and UMMC Executive Leadership. They came together to compare notes about the challenges and successes so far in the first wave of Unit Based Teams

As the hour developed, it became clear to everyone in the room that, across the board, the Unit-Based Teams are off to a productive and promising start. Each UBT has selected one or two substantial problems to tackle in their areas. They've defined their goals, and have begun measuring the effectiveness of their ideas.

SHARE Member and Lead Cardiac Catheterization Technologist, Sue Maddalena, describes how their UBT disregarded the advice that teams should avoid tackling the hardest problems first. They're seeing early successes as they work to improve the start times of their cases.   

Each UBT explained very different situations, different approaches, and different results thus far, even between the two Prescription Centers involved, on both the University and Memorial campuses. Nonetheless, common trends appeared throughout. Communication in areas with UBT's has improved, sometimes considerably. That communication is helping the day-to-day work go more smoothly, and improving the work culture.

In Primary Care, they're kicking butt and collecting data. Where employees were previously frustrated with walk-ins, they're now opportunities to collect data to fix the problem. Rita Caputo (SHARE Co-President, pictured above left) tracks the progress of their system improvements. 

SHARE member and Ambulatory Services Rep Mary Misiaszek said that, in her area, she had encountered one particularly meaningful new improvement: deeper respect. In addition, she said different parts of the clinic now "appreciate what everybody did, because we didn't know what everybody did before."

Mary noted, however, that one of the major challenges they faced was just understanding one another, since each kind of work in the hospital involves its own jargon and specialized language. As an ASR, her understanding of the distinction between words like "rapid" and "stat" differs from some co-workers, who use those words within the boundaries of defined clinical guidelines. 

The hospital's

Center for Innovation and Transformational Change

 often came up in the discussion, with participants noting the importance of the role of CITC in providing common language for discussing improvement.

SHARE member Kim Latrobe, a Technologist in the Surgical Vascular Lab, says that her co-workers are more willing to speak up about problems now, and more optimistic about the way that management will consider their ideas. 

Some in the room commented that their department staff had found it meaningful to see SHARE and hospital leadership coming together around the Unit Based Teams. Although SHARE members have experienced many different initiatives aimed at improvement over the years, this feels different. Working through issues in a process where all participants have equal voice creates mutual accountability and improved chance of continual improvement. 

Bart Metzger, UMass Memorial Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, said that hospital CEO Eric Dickson increasingly references the importance of UBT's in meetings among hospital executives. Metzger describes the function of the UBTs toward the hospital's goals of transforming and humanizing our institution, and turning the traditional management paradigm on its head.

In the recent months, the participants in these first UBT's have learned a lot about how to launch a UBT successfully . . . much of it by trial-and-error. During the Peer Learning Session, many participants thanked the UBT Coaches and their own Co-Sponsors, who have been supporting the teams with tools and strategies for tackling big problems productively. 

Although the UBT model involves a lot of planning, there have definitely been surprises in their initial experiments. The participants recommended even more training and more planning time, and encouraged the Coaches and Co-Sponsors to begin working with the next wave of UBT's as soon as possible, even though those teams won't be launching until after Epic Go-Live. We look forward to hearing more from this first group of UBT's.

SHARE Staff Organizers Janet Wilder and Will Erickson collect ideas and advice for improving the launch of the next wave of Unit Based Teams

The hour-long meeting brought together union members and management from the University Campus and the Memorial Campus, not to mention a labor-management pair who commuted in from our hospital's Tri-River facility in Uxbridge. 

It wasn't easy to coordinate a time when so many could be away from their desks and workstations.


e know that whenever employees step away from the front lines to meet, it puts more pressure on those who remain in the departments to care for patients. We recognize those of you who are working in areas with UBT's for getting this important project started in such a strong way

. Already hundreds of SHARE members have helped move the work forward. Thank you. 

Union Member Audrey King on Unit-Based Teams at Kaiser Permanente

I met Audrey King during a recent trip to Washington DC. The visit continued SHARE's study of union-management partnership in the Kaiser Permanente healthcare network, and how participation makes things better for front-line employees.

Audrey has worked at Kaiser Permanente for 36 years. She has seen the change that Unit-Based Teams has brought to her work there. I thought Audrey had some great things to say, so I asked her if I could record her so SHARE members could hear what she had to say. (Sorry about the noise in the background of the cafeteria!)

Here's a little more about who Audrey is: She's a member of OPEIU Local 2 (one of three union locals representing employees at Kaiser Permanente in the Mid-Atlantic region). Together with the regional quality manager for the KP Labs, Audrey made a presentation to us at their Capitol Hill Medical Center about how the union and management co-sponsors help to make the UBTs successful. (It was cool that every presentation in our day-long visit was made in pairs: a union person and a manager.)

SHARE Field Report from Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center

In early March, eight SHARE leaders and nine UMMHC management leaders visited Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center in Washington DC. SHARE has been studying the Kaiser Permanente unions’ progress in transforming culture. And we’ve been negotiating ideas from their model with our own hospital leadership.

This trip, however, was our first opportunity to see the work at Kaiser Permanente firsthand, up close, in partnership. Together, we got the chance to meet with our Kaiser counterparts (union leaders with union leaders, HR with HR, surgical and clinical management with management.) One of the key themes of the day was that partnership, and the benefits of partnership, are only as strong as its unions: "I've worked in a lot of different ways. And labor management partnership is the best," one labor leader told us. "But never forget you're a union."

At Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center:
Shenita Stewart (Pharmacy UBT Co-Lead, OPIEU Local 2),
Cliff Lovett (Pharmacy Manager & UBT Co-Lead),
and Wendy Williams (Improvement Advisor, UFCW Local 27)


The cornerstone of our 2016 contract agreement, Unit-Based Teams, is based on a model that Kaiser and its unions pioneered a decade ago. We have launched our first six here at UMass Memorial in the last few weeks, and co-sponsors of those new Teams got to look under the hood at some established, long-running UBT’s in Washington.

Our contingent met directly with the co-leads of the Unit-Based Team from the Pharmacy at their Capitol Hill location. The two co-leads of the UBT, Shenita Stewart, a Pharmacy Technician and union member, and Clifford Lovett, the manager were proud of two highly successful improvement projects their department had worked on: getting prescriptions more quickly to patients, and increasing sales of Over-the-Counter drugs. For each project, their team experimented with improvements, systematically. They tried some things that didn’t work . . . and when they realized those ideas wouldn’t pan out, they quickly stopped. They landed on some things that really worked. 

Shenita told us that some of her co-workers didn't believe that UBT would make a difference at first. She acknowledged that their department still has issues to work on, but says that morale is much higher, attendance is better, and she’s seen a lot of improvement in the culture.


Some SHARE and UMass Memorial folks got to sit-in on a UBT meeting in the Pediatric Subspecialty Clinics. "It was fascinating to see consensus decision-making in action," said Bobbi-Jo Lewis from SHARE. "The co-leads went around the group, asking what each person thought, before they went forward. The group agreed to take on a project to explore sending thermometers home with families, even though it was only important to some of the sub-specialties, because they decided to support each other."


Some Kaiser Permanente UBT’s involve patients directly in their Improvement Projects. For example, they might invite a patient with a particular complaint to come talk to the department. Lu Casa, a UFCW Local 400 union member and UBT Co-Lead in the Adult Medicine Department, described her department’s efforts to manage blood pressure rates at the population-level in their community. You can see about that for yourself in the video below. It’s a fun one . . .


In DC, we learned much more about how to start a UBT on the right foot, and to ensure that it is genuinely co-led by management and labor.  We also learned about the things the Kaiser unions have been able to achieve in partnership that they were not able to do through adversarialism.  

SHARE Co-President Rita Caputo said that her biggest regret about the trip was that they couldn’t stay longer and dig deeper into how the employees there go about solving particular problems. She really appreciated how open the staff were, “They were so efficient and thorough and knowledgeable, and completely willing to let us pick their brains.” It was apparent to Rita that their experience showed them what worked. “They’re normal, like us,” she said, “and they’ve figured out for themselves how to keep making things better.”

One of the side benefits of the trip was spending so much time with our management partners.  We returned to Massachusetts with a deeper appreciation of one another’s strengths and challenges, as well as a stronger sense that we can achieve more for our members and the people they care for if we approach one another as allies rather than adversaries.

SHARE and UMass Memorial manager Co-Leads and Sponsors with Kaiser Permanente management and union leaders

Unit-Based Teams: Fixing Healthcare, Making Work Better at Kaiser Permanente

Bart Metzger (UMass Memorial Senior Vice President
and Chief HR Officer), Hal Ruddick (Executive Director,
Kaiser Permanente Coalition of Unions), and
Janet Wilder (SHARE Organizer)
Hal Ruddick leads the union side of the biggest and most successful labor-management partnership in health care, and perhaps in all American industries. He’s the Executive Director of the Kaiser Permanente Coalitions of Unions, which represents 28 local unions and 115,000 union member employees at Kaiser Permanente. (SHARE has sister AFSCME union locals that represent employees at Kaiser Permanente and are part of the coalition.)
Hal Ruddick spoke at the monthly SHARE UMass Memorial Labor Management Partnership Council meeting, so we could learn from their experience.
To Ruddick, this is about fixing healthcare in America. The goal is high quality, affordable care for all, and the Kaiser unit-based teams (UBTs) and labor management partnership are working to get there.
Ruddick added that unions face many challenges right now, and that this is one vision for strengthening unions. Continuous improvement in healthcare through partnership is the foundation for good high quality union jobs.  He says that people choose to work in healthcare to make a difference, but sometimes the experience of working in healthcare drives the passion out of people. “Your work in creating UBTs is key to sustaining a sense of meaning in these jobs.”
One LMPC member asked about the Kaiser Permanente experience with the changing roles of managers and employees with UBTs. Do managers may feel they are being asked to give up control? Hal Ruddick explained that teams have a lot of tools to try to build consensus, but in the end of the day, managers can still manage and labor can still respond. Managers begin to realize that working together with their staff they can find solutions that help reach the managers’ goals. Ruddick says it’s a change for labor too: If you are part of designing a solution, then you own the solution and have to take some responsibility for it.

Introducing the First Unit-Based Teams

SHARE is moving toward a new kind of teamwork. The Unit-Based Team (“UBT”) is the best model SHARE has found for raising the level of hospital employees’ satisfaction at work. With UBT’s, every person in a work area, or Unit, has a safe way to directly shape how the work gets done. This transition to teams means SHARE members and managers will learn to work together differently.

Co-Leads from Tri-River and Primary Care talk about their hopes and fears about UBT's with SHARE UBT Coach Marie Manna



On February 16th, the first joint SHARE-UMass Memorial UBT Training session brought together Co-Leads and Co-Sponsors from five of the first Unit-Based TeamsThe room was packed with SHARE members and their management counterparts. They spent the morning learning skills for cultivating their teams. Based on the training, they talked about what opportunities they might want to explore, and what pitfalls they could foresee to avoid.

As SHARE Organizer Janet Wilder put it, over the coming years, these first UBT departments will be doing “a little bit of guinea pigging, and a whole lot of pioneering.” We wish them luck, and look forward to using what they learn as the UBT's expand to other areas of the hospital system.

The first wave of teams includes:

  • Heart and Vascular Intervention Lab
  • Prescription Centers (from both the Memorial and University campuses)
  • Primary Care
  • Tri-River Family Health Center
  • Vascular Lab

Prescription Center Co-Leads Jackie Breeds  and Kristine Stapelfeld with Co-Sponsor Maddy Popkin in the middle

From the Cath Lab: Co-sponsor Kati Korenda, with Co-Leads Mary Hodgerney, and Kathy Girouard

University Campus Prescription Center Co-Leads Laurie Aubuchon, Cathy Gaulin, and Lorna Schulze

Prescription Center Co-Sponsors Deb Largesse and Roland Bercume

Michelle Drew and Mary Misiaszek

from Tri-River Family Health in Uxbridge

Partnership Day at FMCS Chicago

While some SHARE staff organizers were in for the long-haul at the FMCS Conference this week, other SHARE leaders made a quick hop out to Chicago and back for the kickoff event: Partnership Day. (It made for a long day . . . but some SHARE folks had to be back for contract negotiations early the next morning.)
A strong union is necessary for
a strong partnership, says
Tom Kochan of MIT

Partnership Day showcased six union-management partnerships that have survived and even thrived for more than a decade. Two groups talked about partnerships in healthcare: Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of KP Unions, and LA County Health Agency and the Service Employees International Union. (Click here for the full list and agenda.)  

The keynote speaker for the event was former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.

"Over and over, each group talked about how hard it is work in partnership. It's easier to go the traditional way, and be adversarial. But they also said the results are better in partnership: better for the employees, the patients, and for management," said SHARE Organizer, Janet Wilder.

SHARE Organizer Will Erickson's take-away idea was that any Labor-Management partnership--however well-developed, strategically planned, and strong it may seem--is always fragile.

Both SHARE and UMass Memorial management learned
about union-management partnerships in Chicago:
Kati Korenda, Senior Director,
Heart and Vascular Center of Excellence,
and Bobbi-Jo Lewis, SHARE Co-President
Kati Korenda of the Heart and Vascular Center told us that she was struck by the story of International Paper, which, in its long history, had its share of labor-management strife, including strikes and lockouts; at a critical moment, however, they turned around the direction of their relationship, and their partnership has led the company to new vibrancy and success.

Each time SHARE talks with union folks from Kaiser Permanente, we learn more about how we might work in partnership at UMass Memorial, and what we might get out of it. Denise Duncan, President of UNAC/AFSCME, which represents RNs in Southern California told us over dinner, 
"I was against this at first. But now I'm convinced that partnership is the way to go. We have UNAC members who work at Kaiser Permanente and at other more traditional employers, so I see the difference every day. Our members at Kaiser have better contracts, and a better experience day-to-day at work."

Partnership Day panel, with the Kaiser group on the left,
Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld,
and the LA County group on the far right.

One Kaiser Permanente Unit-Based Team, and $47,000 Worth of IUDs

The hospital workers from Kaiser Permanente that I met at IHI all seemed so proud of the work their unit-based teams are doing.

A good example are the three co-leads of a unit-based team from the OB/Gyn clinic of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center: Richardson, the manager; Brittanye an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse, like our LPNs); and Marcia, a Nurse Practitioner. Brittanye and Marcia are both union leaders, from 2 different unions.

How Unit-Based Teams Change the Day-to-Day Experience at Work at Kaiser

When I asked how the unit-based team changes work for her, Brittanye told me, “You have more input. It makes us feel better because our voice is heard. When we are asked, we feel we are going to be listened to…. It’s more collaborative, not management saying ‘this is how it’s going to be.’ We can make it better and get the job done.”

Richardson, the clinic manager, said their unit-based team collapsed the first time they tried to get it going, but now it's thriving. “Finally we have a team where we all listen to each other. We aren’t just talking at each other… We respect each other. I want our department to shine. I have pride in my department, and I trust my employees. I have pride in what we work on together. I listen to what they say. It fills me with joy to see them thinking outside the box, and to see how much they care about the patients.”

Harvesting Old IUDs to Improve Work and Patient Care

One of this unit-based teams projects was setting up a process to return unneeded IUDs, which are worth about $500 each when returned to the company. Creating a new, and smooth, process to make sure the IUDs didn’t get trashed involved the front desk, the Medical Assistants, the physicians, and the LVNs.  As Richardson said, “It wouldn’t be successful if we didn’t have the engagement of everyone.”

Over 11 months, the OB/Gyn clinic saved $47,000 by returning IUDs. Brittanye said they were able to buy 5 new ultrasound probes with the money they saved last year. “That increases access for our patients, and they have to wait less. The staff is happier and it’s not as stressful.”

Why Kaiser and the Unions Created Unit-Based Teams

The coalition of unions at Kaiser and Kaiser Permanente management negotiated to put in their contract a system of unit-based teams in every department. Unit-based teams tap into the knowledge and experience of front-line staff, managers and physicians. According to the Kaiser Permanente Labor Management Partnership website, “These teams are transforming Kaiser Permanente by changing the roles of union members and managers and creating an environment in which all employees are encouraged to think critically about problem solving and work innovations.”

SHARE and UMass Memorial senior management have invited a union and a management representative of the Kaiser Permanent Labor Management Partnership to visit UMass Memorial, to explain how their unit-based teams work. 

(The first 2 pictures show the OB/Gyn Unit-Based Team at a celebration of unit-based teams' work. The 3rd picture shows the three co-leads that I met at IHI -- Brittanye, Richardson, and Marcia.  -- Janet Wilder)

Looking at How Other Hospital Unions Are Making Work Better

One main focus of the upcoming contract negotiations for SHARE will be improving the day-to-day experience for SHARE members. To prepare, SHARE is looking at what other hospitals and unions are doing.

The annual IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement) conference is a great place to meet people doing innovative work. IHI is a world leader in the effort to improve healthcare, and to make good care available to everyone. The conference brings together healthcare leaders, front-line employees, nurses, doctors, medical students, administrators, and a few of us from organized labor. It was inspiring to be with over five thousand people from all over the world who are trying to make their hospitals better.

Highlights from other unions:
  • UNITE HERE, a union that represents hotel workers in Los Angeles, is running classes for their members (voluntary, of course) in self-management of chronic disease. Many members are feeling healthier, and they are keeping the costs of their health insurance down. (For more info, see link to video, link to report with health outcomes data.)
  • CIR (the Committee of Interns and Residents, a union of doctors), teaches process improvement to new doctors, who are motivated to gain those skills and experiences to use in their careers. You can read about them here, here and here.
  • I got to learn a lot more about the Labor Management Partnership at Kaiser Permanente. The best part was meeting the union & manager co-leaders of unit-based teams in their departments. Kaiser rewards the 30 best unit-based teams every year by sending the co-lead to the IHI conference.
  •  I went to a workshop from Kaiser called "Workers and Patients: A Single Culture of Safety" where they said that the best prevention for injuries is to have a good team, where workers feel free to speak up when they see something that could be improved.
The Labor Management Partnership at Kaiser Permanente is really changing the role of frontline staff at their hospitals, and we want to learn a lot more about how they are doing it. This week, we are hosting a series of meetings with a union and a management leader from Kaiser Permanente -- more on that soon.

Pictured: Maggie Ridings, LPN (right) and Jane Baxter, Nurse Manager. Maggie and Jane are co-leads of a unit-based team in the OB/Gyn department and clinic in Alpharetta, Georgia. One of their team's projects was to develop a system to help their patients be sure to pick the right hospital for their delivery, saving their patients money and helping Kaiser Permanente to keep their healthcare affordable. In another project, they built a garden to encourage healthy living for patients and staff.