Tune in! Don Antonucci, CEO of Providence Health Plan, is on Moments Move Us
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New Podcast Episode: The Three Cs of Leadership: Caring, Communication, and Curiosity with Don Antonucci
What You’ll Learn:
COVID-19 made a lasting impact on many, especially those in healthcare. At the start of the pandemic, Donna Beecroft, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Memorial Hermann Northeast in Texas, watched as her ICU quickly became overwhelmed with COVID patients. The loss of connectivity with families, visitors, and coworkers resulted in grief and devastation for the entire healthcare team.
In this episode, you’ll learn how Donna worked hard to protect, support, and care for her team differently.
“It was December, and I was feeling a little bit heavy. And I’m intrinsically an optimistic person, but I wasn’t feeling like I was driving my teams. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of energy. I really felt like I was wanting to crawl into a hole and call it done. And I was doing a presentation and I was talking about self-awareness, and something in my mind was like, ‘You hypocrite.’ So, I decided I was going to practice what I preached, and so I actually got a book called 75 Hard. (I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart) but it’s a program about mental discipline. And I started with that book and did 75 days of very intense discipline. But the best part about it, it’s some physical discipline, like two exercises, lots of water, no alcohol. (But that’s another conversation.) And then, I had to read 10 pages of a book, and it had to be a self-development book. And I started with really focusing on who I was in an individual, and I started journaling while I was reading. And then, really started to discover all the things that I had let build up. And started to meditate.
And then I’ve shared it with my team [and] several of my team members had went on the journey with me. So we are evolving as a team. We are changing. And, it’s been a really great journey and I couldn’t have done it had I not started to listen to what I was telling everybody else to do…
The best part about all of this, is every day you had to take a picture. And you’re like, ‘Oh, why am I taking this picture?’ So, you’re standing here, take a picture, and about halfway through it, and I’m feeling stronger, like my stance is very Wonder Woman-ish. Like I’m feeling stronger. And my husband looked at me about halfway through, he was taking my picture one night and he said, ‘Your smile has changed. And I sent the same picture to my daughter who lives in Florida, who’s 26, and she texted me back and she said, ‘You’re glowing in the picture. What are you doing?’ And that internal light was reflecting out with the joy that I was feeling by letting go of some of the narratives, the stuff that you hold onto that people say, or the I gotta be better, or I gotta look like that, or I gotta do that. Or comparing yourself to others and those narratives, oh my God, we kill ourselves with our thoughts and our narratives. Letting those go really did help.”
“March 13th, 2020, I was a CNO in a facility in Austin, and we received our first COVID patient. And the world changed for us, was changing for everybody. the world changed for us, and it was a young guy, very young guy, not your typical covid picture. And, quickly, we got inundated in our ICUs with COVID and within a week we were watching our first patient, patient, take some of his last breaths.
And I remember sitting outside of that room watching my two nurses inside of their cappers, and they were taking care of this patient who is all alone. No family, nobody could be by him. And they had the family on the iPad so the family could be there, and they were saying goodbye with that family. And for so long as healthcare providers and as nurses, we’ve been able to step away from a family when they’re in grief. We facilitate, we just provide you a safe space to be with your family member. And now we were right in the middle of it. I watched my nurses, I watched the energy in the room circle through my nurses, and I thought to myself, ‘This is going to change us forever. This is gonna forever change who we are and how we practice.’ And I watched them just provide all of this love and all of their energy as they just, oh my God, as they weeped with this family. When they came out, they were so heavy…
And I remember hugging my little nurse friend. I just remember hugging her when she came out. And she was so worried about me. She’s [like], ‘Go change your clothes. Go change your clothes. I don’t want you and your family to get sick.’ And I remember trying to support them and care for them. And that grief that we felt about the loss of connectivities with families. The loss of connectivity with our families. As we had these rituals as we came into the house, the loss of connectivities to visitors. It changed everything and it provided us the space to remember why we do what we do. Because we forgot, I think, the airlines do it best—Put oxygen on yourself, then on the next person beside of you. But in healthcare, we would run in the room and think about our safety last. And we had to switch that mindset. And so that grief was so real. And I tell you, there was so many times, I wanted to crawl underneath my table. Like and be done with it, and why am I doing this? Why am in healthcare? But I would look at my teams and I would look about everything that they had gone through. And really my heart was to try to save them and protect them and to make sure they had everything they needed because what they needed was so important to me.
So really the grief that my nurses were experiencing and making sure that they had what they needed became my big passion. I needed to take care of them, and I needed to help them, and I needed to provide them space for decompression, space for themselves, space to be able to grieve, just care for them differently. They became my patients. And so that grief for me, I had to bury that down, and take care of them. And so, I slowly started to work through the grief probably in the last year and a half, as we’ve moved through pandemic all through the surges, all four or five of the surges really started to identify that there’s a lot of good that has happened. Obviously not loss of life, but a lot of good that has happened with COVID, and then how we were able to adapt and pivot and care for our teams differently. And the mental health support that we were able to give our providers and give our nurses, really has changed, across the industry and has really made it, really helped me be able to help them, and then be able to help my own journey as I move to wellness.”
“I was brand new in leadership, had just really started as a manager…and there was this young nurse, her name is Kristen, and she was not doing well, and everybody wanted to give up on her. And I was like, ‘There’s something inside of her.’ And I met with her, and I talked to her a little bit and she was on my unit, and I asked my director, I said, ‘Let me take her, let me work with her, let me see if I can help her.’
And her and I worked really hard. I had some very specific things that she had to meet. But I met with her, and I listened to her about what would work well for her. She was so burdened that she was not gonna be successful as a nurse. She was a new nurse. She was feeling no confidence, so I just allowed her the space to become her.
And at first you don’t really see it. As a leader, you sow these little seeds, kinda leave. But, I’ll tell you, I watched her blossom into a wonderful nurse and then into a wonderful, Charge Nurse. And then, probably about five years ago, I was in my office, and I get this little knock at the door and it’s her in a suit, [she] just looked wonderful. And she sat down and she said, ‘You have no idea the difference you made in my life. I’m here today and I’m interviewing for a trauma ICU job.’ She’s like, ‘I never would’ve been able to do this if you didn’t have faith in me.’ I said, ‘You didn’t need me to have faith in you, you needed to have faith in yourself.’
That moment reminds me of why I do what I do. Because sometimes we impact lives that we have no idea, like our actions and our words. When you talk about how you help it, somebody see joy or authenticity, I’ve gotta live it and do it. I’ve gotta be transparent when I make mistakes. I gotta be okay to do that. Because if my team doesn’t see it, they’re not gonna feel like they can do that. And that moment I knew that I gotta always stop and be present.”
“[Elizabeth Fredeboelling is] exactly the leader I wanted to be, and I hope I’m making her proud, which I think I am. She’s seen in me more than I had seen in myself. She really helped and took the time to hear me and to provide those little soft touches and the little adjustments I needed to make…And she took the time to know who I was and what my goal was. My goal was never to be a CNO. My goal is to advocate for the whole. Like, ‘How do I help more people? Like what can I do that can help more people?’ And she took the time to really coach me in such a way that was with love and thoughtfulness.
And it was for a very short period of time…But she impacted me in such a way that when she tapped me on the shoulder, about a CNO job in Austin, I didn’t think twice I went ahead and I thought, ‘If she thinks I can do it, I can do it.’ And that’s how I moved into senior leadership. And now I try to help others with that same thing.”
“You gotta connect somebody’s passion to their purpose. And everybody has talent. Some people just hide them really well. And so, sometimes you just dig in and find out how to best help that person find the best path for them to bring out that joy. And that’s what those celebrations do. Honoring, recognition, those little short wins, and the finite game make the infinite game easy.”
“Showing up and being present is hard to do sometimes and easy to do others. So, the most important thing that I try to do and remember is that being present in that moment and hearing and seeing people in the moment, regardless of what the moment is, is the most important thing I can do as a leader and as a human being, let’s just be real, that human connectivity. And so, I try to pause for a couple of minutes before I go into my next event.”
“And so what I’ve tried to do over the last, especially over the last couple of years with Covid, is just really try to be present and stop and pause. And I’ve even been one at a meeting to say, let’s take a couple of minutes and let’s just stand. Or let’s listen to some music, or let’s have a reflection or tell me something that is really memorable today. Because what we do is so heavy sometimes that it’s nice to take the weight off, set it off to the side, and remember that we’re first and foremost people. And that the care of each other is almost more important than the care of our patients. But that presence is so essential.”
“One of the things I’ve learned this last year is that you can be a different person every single day. And you can change, and you can evolve. And I know that I’ve said this so many times to my team, but I’m under no obligation be the same person I was five minutes ago.
And that evolution in change of who we are as individuals is essential, and it helps us to be present.”
“Authenticity is the best thing you can do for anybody, especially yourself. And I really learned this as an executive because there was always this vision of what I thought I should be like, do like, and look like and act like, and always thought I could never be that person. And I’m me, and that’s the most important person I can be. And I’ve heard over the years, ‘Oh, you show me that it’s okay to be me and be an executive. It’s okay to be authentically yourself and transparent.’ And I make mistakes, but I own my mistakes and I’m going to stand in front of you and tell you how we could do it different or just lean in and figure out how I could have done it different from your perspective.”
“Be you, be confident in who you are, but you gotta know yourself. Don’t assume you know yourself. Do the work—The work to know yourself…As women, we apologize for everything and own everything that you do, good and bad. So a fresh, young, professional, that’s a female, just the biggest thing that they can do for themselves is self-awareness. Own it, know it, journal, take time for yourself, have a vision, and plot out that vision a little bit. And it could be step by step. You might not know long term but have a vision of what you want to look like in your mind and just go to it.”
“Our community has changed. Our nurses have changed, and so it’s adapting and meeting them where they are, which has really become super important these days.”
“I’ve also had the opportunity to go to Texas legislation and testify on behalf of my nurses. And I’ll take their stories and make sure that their stories are passed along and make sure that our representatives know what it feels like to work in an environment where you don’t feel safe… It’s not only just safety for workplace violence or physical aggression or sexual harassment and all that stuff, but it’s also safety to be who I am, who I love, what I believe, what I stand for, what I look like. All of that is important for my team to feel safe in.”
“This culture work is ongoing. It’s never gonna be finished. This is an evolution that continues to grow and every day as we continue to move and we continue to move forward, we say, ‘Oh, we have more to do in this space, or more to do in this space.’”
“Vulnerability to me is the ability to be authentically you and to allow the space for others to do so and to not always have to be right. And to be curious and courageous.”
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.