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St. Luke’s CEO: To be accountable, we disclosed child’s death from medical error

A lot of organizations do not spend much time identifying and enculturating their values.

They should.

Identifying our core values was one of the first things we focused on when I became CEO at St. Luke’s six years ago, and I am glad we did. Our core values are integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence. Those values have proved to be reliable touchstones and have guided us through challenging times.

You can tell a lot about an organization and its leaders when the going gets tough. I have seen organizations nearly destroyed when leaders lost their way and didn’t believe that the values of an organization applied to them or purposefully chose to violate those values. I have also seen leaders, who considered themselves great when everything was going along fine, crumble when faced with adversity.

At the same time, I have observed over decades in health care administration how often difficult and challenging questions, with strong arguments on both sides of the issue, have clear answers if the framework used for answering those questions is the organization’s core values.

Recently, St. Luke’s experienced the death of a child in our care because of a medical error. This was a tragedy, devastating, and one that has pained and challenged everyone involved and our organization as a whole.

St. Luke’s leaders were aware of many situations where organizations have tried to cover up mistakes or misconduct, eroding the public’s trust in those organizations, and in which attorneys have tried to minimize disclosures that might increase clients’ liability.

I am so proud that St. Luke’s leaders thoughtfully and deliberately chose a response consistent with our values. We understand that integrity calls for honesty, so we went further and determined that integrity, demonstrated in its fullness, calls for openness and transparency.

And so the answer to tough questions about how much information we shared openly, proactively and voluntarily became clear once decided in light of our values. In applying our value of accountability, it meant that not only do we disclose this publicly, but we don’t make excuses and we don’t blame others.

Other core values came into play as we balanced compassion for the family and staff members involved with respect for the family’s need for privacy and information and staff members’ needs for caring and support.

We need leaders in all areas of our society who pursue excellence with integrity. I have often heard integrity defined as what you do when no one is looking. We need leaders who take accountability — a trait that can seem all too rare today — and leaders who demonstrate compassion and respect for all.

Identifying an organization’s core values, and then making sure that all leaders act in accordance with them, will help guide leaders and organizations through the toughest and most challenging of times.