At Wake Forest Baptist, a 'reinvigorated' IT team

Clear communication of 'mission, vision and values' key to higher morale
By Mike Miliard
03:39 AM
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has seen some sizable IT challenges in recent years, but Chief Information Officer Deette "Dee" Emon says the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based health system has made its way through the storm, and staff morale has "really come around."

Wake Forest Baptist experienced some much-publicized difficulties with the multi-million-dollar rollout of its Epic EHR in 2012, leading to drastic cost-cutting measures including "attempts at volunteer employee furloughs and hour-and-wage reductions, a hiring freeze, a reduction in employer retirement contributions, and elimination of executive incentive bonuses for 2013," as Healthcare IT News reported at the time.

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The problem-plagued go-live led to "some significant financial strain on the health system," says Emon, who joined Wake Forest in 2014 and was promoted from chief clinical information officer to CIO earlier this spring. "Overall, the employee morale through that time was so low."

That has changed in a big way. The health system's board has put a focus on reinvestment in IT that fundamentally changed the dynamic there, she says.

"The added infrastructure, focusing on engagement with our employees, bringing in new technology to really invigorate the organization has moved the employee morale along," says Emon. "We've really been working collaboratively, with mutual respect, with open and transparent communication – all those really good things that people should be doing."

Whether working together to implement state-of-the-art hybrid cloud or collaborating on charity events, she says the Wake Forest IT department increasingly feels more like "family" than coworkers.

Emon comes to the CIO role from a somewhat unique place: "My entire IT career has been with Wake Forest, and I've been here a year and a half," she says. Prior to that, she was in executive nursing leadership, serving as chief nursing quality officer for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

"I have always been, without really having the title, the CNIO," she says. "I did my first all-digital hospital implementation back in 2005. So I have a lot of history with IT, just never actually in the department."

In her short time heading this IT team, Emon says she's learned some lessons about maintaining a positive and forward-thinking work environment.

"From a leadership perspective, the biggest lesson learned is the water cooler conversation sometimes supersedes communication from the top-down," she says, adding that it's critical to keep employees informed, "to the best of your knowledge, so they're not speculating and the sky isn't falling."

Equally important is keeping a focus on "the strategic direction the department," she says – making clear the "mission, vision and values of the organization and tying it back to what people do every day."

That, says Emon, makes a "huge difference in making people feel like they were part of something bigger than the IT department."

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