How post-merger Hackensack Meridian made one IT team out of many

More than 400 staffers, some separated by 65 miles of New Jersey Turnpike, are called team members, not employees. And that fosters a spirit of focusing on patient care.
By Mike Miliard
06:37 AM
Best Hospital IT department 2017

New Jersey's Hackensack Meridian Health was created in the July 2016 mega-merger of Hackensack University Health Network and Neptune, New Jersey-based Meridian Health (which has appeared in this contest four times, both before and since the merger).

Nearly two years since the two systems joined forces, a combined 420 employees are hard at work ensuring that the transition continues to be a smooth one and that the combined health system continues to chart a course toward innovative, technology-enabled care.

To describe the team's sense of unity, Joseph Mannion, MD, Hackensack Meridian's CIO, reaches for The Three Musketeers.

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"There's an esprit de corps: There's very much a feeling of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, and that really is a key to our success as far as employee and team member satisfaction," Mannion said.

"One of the things I've always noticed about the people we end up hiring is they really show an interest in wanting to work here. They're not just applying for an IT job. We try and look for people who really want to work for Hackensack Meridian Health. That's one of the things from the beginning that helps us build a team as cohesive as it is.”

Another tactic is insisting on the term ‘team member’ instead of calling them employees -- language that Mannion said shapes behavior toward inclusivity. 

“That message is given subliminally to everyone across the organization," he said. The result? "With go-lives and system issues, people always rise to the occasion." 

A physician by training, Mannion explained that one thing has always stuck with him about the IT department at Hackensack Meridian: People look at what they do as being a big part of patient care. 

“They've never lost sight of that. We have clinicians in the department – they may have been a radiology tech or a pharmacist – and now they're working on those applications,” he said. “So we expect a patient slant from those folks, but really everyone has that at heart."

Since Hackensack and Meridian merged in July 2016, the mission has been to unify on a common platform that previously had two of everything, hence the major convergence to Epic., which the legacy Meridian organization was doing before the hospital’s combined. 

"Given the tremendous workload that we have – we're still taking care of patients every day and we have to keep the systems going – people are just inundated with work, but still smiling,” he said. “Even under tremendous stress, people are still happy, which to me is the ultimate compliment as a leader for IT."

So what's the key to hiring the kind of staffer who approaches the work like that?

"One of the things I want to see is why someone wants to work for HMH as opposed to the next hospital system down the road," he said. "It's one thing to be a certified builder in Epic. But I think having your part in the organization, or at least thinking you're excited about what HMH's goals are, and what it's working on, that's what I look for – the enthusiasm."

Since the merger, the Hackensack Meridian IT team exists in "essentially three different locations," said Mannion. This past summer, the whole 400-plus squad had a beach get-together on the Jersey Shore.

"It was a great time – some people hadn't even met face-to-face yet," he said. "There's essentially a good 65 miles between the furthest northern office and furthest southern office."

The key is to treat team members like family. 

“You spend a lot of time with them. If we have a system issue and we need all hands on deck, whether it's a go-live or a downtime situation, we expect them to be able to rise to the occasion, Mannion said. "But it's important to recognize that it's a two-way street. You have to be flexible and allow people to do what they need to do. I'm a big believer that family comes first. Treating people like that goes a long way."

Best hospital IT departments: 2017

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Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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