South Florida Hospital News
Sunday May 26, 2019
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November 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 5

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Paula J. Alderson: Clinician, Administrator and Catalyst for Change at Hospice by the Sea

A successful health care organization blends clinical excellence with solid, progressive business practices. Good management, after all, fosters a work environment that produces high quality care; and administrators and clinicians, working with mutual respect and synergy, can energize an organization to develop innovative programs and deliver outstanding services.

That is the case at Hospice by the Sea (HBTS), a not-for-profit organization fortunate enough to have a leader who describes herself as having "a clinical heart and a corporate head." Paula Alderson, R.N., B.S. N., M.Ed., was named chief executive officer and president of HBTS in February 2006, taking the reins from Trudi Webb, who had directed the company for 22 years.

Alderson arrived at HBTS in July 2005 as a consultant, recruited to assist the facility with strategic planning. When Webb decided to retire, the position was offered to Alderson, who accepted with enthusiasm.

"I was immediately impressed with Hospice by the Sea," Alderson says. "Itís a pioneering organization with a rich history, a reputation for quality care, and an extremely talented and committed staff."

Coming to HBTS brings Aldersonís career full circle, back to the clinical side of health care operations. It also reaffirms her interest in end-of-life care, which began decades ago, when as a clinical instructor she worked with renowned death and dying pioneer Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Alderson spent a number of years in academics, educating future nurses at Marquette University, her undergraduate alma mater, as well as at the University of New Mexico, University of Toledo and the Medical College of Ohio. Her expertise as an educator led her to an education and training department of a major insurance company in the Northeast, where she eventually was promoted to president of an HMO. Alderson says that she enjoyed being a managed care and health insurance product development executive because it gave her an opportunity to serve patients in a different way. She chose to leave, however, when reductions in services conflicted with her values.

Her next venture was to launch a consulting company that used her business acumen and clinical background to help healthcare organizations with strategic planning and program development. From there, she moved on to drive the revitalization of HBTS.

Hospice by the Sea, founded in 1979, was among the first hospices to be established in South Florida. Started with just seven patients, today it is a multifaceted organization with care centers in Boca Raton and Hollywood, as well as a home health division. The company, which has served more than 60,000 patients throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties, cares for 80Ė90% of its patients in the comfort and convenience of their own homes, including private residences, and assisted living and skilled facilities.

When Alderson first came on board, she conducted an in-depth assessment of the organization, identifying its strengths and resources, and seeking the best ways to position it within an increasingly competitive hospice and palliative care market.

She often involved the staff directly in the process, asking them, for example, to bring calculators to meetings so they could understand the numbers behind their business.

Alderson has introduced four values that stand as cornerstones for every aspect of the organizationís operations -- excellence, integrity, teamwork and accountability. The goal is to ingrain these values within HBTS, so that they become an integral part of its culture, and a signature for the company and its employees. "Each staff member needs to take ownership of these four values," Alderson says. "When you embrace them internally, you become known for them externally. People will be able to feel it."

Another priority for Alderson is enhancing communications. Good communications, she believes, are central to a companyís success, and she encourages employees to share ideas and information. Monthly staff meetings always close with the question, "What are you hearing on the street? Are there any rumors we need to discuss?" Through closer communications, Alderson is also strengthening the relationships between administrative staff and the clinical teams.

Within the community, a prime goal for Alderson is to raise the profile of the organization, so that both the public and health care professionals can better utilize its programs and services. Alderson refers to HBTS as a "sleeping giant" Ė a wonderful organization doing excellent work, but with insufficient awareness of that excellence. "Our program for Hispanic patients and families, for example, is recognized nationally and serves as a model for cultural competency, " says Alderson. "We need to let more people know that."

To build awareness, Alderson is broadening the companyís outreach efforts, in part by expanding the speakerís bureau and initiating community workshops on topics such as support for the home caregiver. She is partnering with local and regional organizations on a number of initiatives as well, and has already developed a program to share volunteer resources with Volunteers for the Homebound and Family Caregivers, based in Boca Raton.

Alderson understands that transition is difficult, and she is proud of the way the staff is dealing with the daily realities of growing a business. "Even in the throes of change, there is an incredible spirit here," she says. Alderson adds that itís critical to stay focused on what the companyís mission really is--providing the finest care possible for patients and families. To achieve that, she asks non-clinical employees to spend time in the care center, or volunteering at Camp Good Grief, HBTSís weekend bereavement camp for children, so that they may experience the "heart and soul" of hospice.

To help all staff renew their energies, Alderson is starting a new program of integrative therapies. There is "Afternoon in the Aviary," with musical performances to relax and relieve stress, and offerings of massage, healing touch, and Reiki. Employee growth and enrichment are also key to Alderson, which is reflected in presentations like "Lunch & Learn," and her encouragement to staff to be active in professional and educational organizations. "Iím dedicated to our staff," says Alderson, "because our staff is hospice."

All of Aldersonís initiatives, internally and externally, support an ultimate vision: to be the best of breed among hospice providers. "We donít want to become the biggest hospice in South Florida, but we do want to be known for our excellence," she says.

For more information about Hospice by the Sea, visit www.hospicebytheseafl.org or call (561) 395-5031.
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