Donna Thompson

Interview with Donna Thompson

DThompsonSlow it down, we’ll get there

We have the luxury of doing it right – So do it well

If I don’t tell you that as a leader, then you won’t have the luxury of getting rid of the noise

Hope Street Group’s strength lies in its network – of partners, funders and thought leaders. In order to make ACCESS a success, you have had to reach out to and engage a diverse group of stakeholders. Why is not “going it alone” so important?

Whether you are focused on education, healthcare or jobs, you have to be passionate about what you do and how you do it. Alone, you will be invisible, almost like you don’t have a voice.

When I started at ACCESS, a lot of what we were doing was getting to the core of social justice. Healthcare was the product, but healthcare could not be the only thing we did. A major learning I had was that when I am passionate, I cannot focus my own individual self-interests. I need to see what my potential partners’ self-interests are in order to broaden my network. First, slow down. You know what YOUR message is. New partners offer a different perspective. If you listen, you can find where your mutual self-interests intersect and use that as framework to start to build.

Many times, when you are the content expert, you have the tendency to surround yourself with those who think as you do – you all run in the same packs. Others may have different opinions or approaches to a problem. Surround yourself with a diverse group of stakeholders – not just in jobs, education or healthcare.

Diversity of thought on the best approaches often creates positive impact on patients, their families and communities. I always love to talk to people in healthcare who engage in different approaches. Those that ask, “Donna, why do you think the way you do?” push me outside my sphere and create a framework for open dialog. Open dialog may cause tension, but some tension can be good. By working through tension, there may be a new ability to communicate that can move conversations along.

Early in the ACCESS process, I can remember going to DuPage County. A major stakeholder asked, “Why would they want a healthcare center there? Wouldn’t it just bring people from Chicago out here?” Instead of answering myself, I chose to keep my mouth shut and let someone else answer the question. And someone, a knowledgeable peer, did. This person was able to tell him that they do have a low-income population in DuPage County that needs to be served, and it makes sense to have a health center available for DuPage County residents. We framed the conversation from there – making the same healthcare affordable and easily accessible to lower-income residents as it is to higher-income residents.

When you work on an issue or program together with other organizations, you build camaraderie and alignment and a shared sense of purpose. You will have a broader and more impactful process than if you go it alone. It takes more of an integrated set of talents, skills and knowledge to navigate all of the complexities to achieve desired results.

And it is a long journey – And who wants to go on a long journey alone? One day you feel like you conquered the world. Then two weeks later you feel like you have been knocked in the gut and start at ground zero. With a coalition of stakeholders, some will hold up the rear, but different partners will also take the lead or be part of the pack at different times. The value of a coalition can be seen by funders and other stakeholders, and can influence your success.

Despite rising healthcare costs, you have found innovative ways to bring quality care to people in need. How do you continue to stay ahead – of patients’ and providers’ needs, of costs and of new advances in technology – so you can continue to provide this same level of care?

In a space such as ours, you don’t have the luxury of making wild guesses. So we drive for results, not just talking about it, but demonstrating it. I don’t know how much of this has been luck or sheer will, but brutal focus has stepped up. With the downturn in economy, we have never turned people away. The majority of our patient base is on Medicaid, and we’ve been challenged by slower Medicaid payments from the state of Illinois – up to a 90 day turnaround. More than 20% of our other patients are uninsured and on a sliding fee scale, paying and average of $30 for each visit that costs ACCESS $150.

ACCESS values our patients. We have made key investment in technology and facility design. EPIC, our electronic health record and billing system, will be fully implemented by the end of this summer. ACCESS recently achieved stage 6 of HIMSS Analytics Ambulatory EMR (Electronic Medical Record) Adoption Model. This is a national program that measures how completely and successfully organizations have implemented their ambulatory EMR. Only 1.23% of the 20,000+ Ambulatory Health Care Organizations reporting have achieved level 6. A major focus of our quality health care is on creating beautiful, welcoming, culturally-inclusive health centers that offer streamlined processes for patients to get the care they need. One of my clearest memories is when a patient asked me, “is this for my family and me?” This has also resulted in the consolidation of health centers from 60 to 43.

We want to be available for our patients 24/7. The true cost savings in healthcare is prevention. We are trying to be in constant communication with patients. We have created MyACCESSHEALTH, part of ACCESS’ website, through which our patients can communicate with their doctor, get test results, make or change appointments, and more. Now, with so many of our patients using smart phones, wer’re developing our own smart phone app. We are looking outside healthcare for these answers – if it works in X, why can’t it be replicated in healthcare?

Why do you think a group like Hope Street Group is important?

When we ask our practitioners, “When you close the door in the exam room, what are the one or two things your patients want to talk about?” Overwhelmingly – Instability of jobs and housing. Everything intersects – education, jobs and healthcare. They really want to say, “It’s great you want to talk about my blood pressure, but I need a job!”

Some groups miss what is underneath what they’re seeing; they see empirical parts, but miss the essence, the whole picture, including all perspectives. There is an art and science to this – the theory and evidence-based practice. It’s what is underneath that often gets to how you solve a problem. Making a collective impact based on the whole picture is key to moving towards a resolution. Hope Street Group gets to the impact.

Hope Street Group realizes you can’t just take one of the issues off of the table. They understand that if someone doesn’t have the education, they can’t get the skills to get a job. And if they aren’t properly nourished or don’t have proper healthcare, they can’t go to school to get the education to get the skills to get the job. I got involved with Hope Street Group because they understand the need for these 3 major areas to intersect. They are bringing the best of the content experts together to share the best ideas and evidence-based practices.

Hope Street Group provides a holistic approach. When you come out of a working session, it is not a laundry list of “to-dos.” You come out with 2, no more than 3 ideas to think about and work on. And you are surrounded by very bright, focused people who are asking for the MOST critical ideas that need to be addressed. They are looking for very succinct ideas that will make the biggest impact. And this is how things get done.

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