Ileen Sylvester: Vision, values and engaging the community

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  • Posted:Wednesday 18 November 2015

Ben Collins talks to Ileen Sylvester, Vice President of Executive and Tribal Services at Southcentral Foundation, about the 'Nuka' system of care they use in Alaska.

This video was filmed while Ben was in Alaska as part of his research for a report.


BC: So Ileen, throughout the Southcentral buildings, there are banners setting out your vision and your values. Can you tell me a little bit about the most important principles that guide your organisation and how they’ve shaped how you do your work?

IS: We knew that we needed to have something that the whole organisation as we move forward, could line up with. Everything that we did, we needed to have something that not only could our providers, our employees, what we’re going to say customer owners now, everyone could understand exactly where we were going, what we wanted to do and kind of what was that vision that we had and so that’s where we came with our vision, mission and our key points. And so vision is a native community is a native community that enjoys physical, mental, emotion and spiritual wellness so as a whole person. so we’ve always looked at the whole person, even back then. Today you hear people talking about that for healthcare but for native people, that was the core. We couldn’t just look at the physical because we’re more than that. So as native people, we look at the whole so that was critical. And then with the mission, it’s all of us working together in partnership. We knew we couldn't do it by ourselves. We would have to have partners that could link up with us in the different areas of need – including our customer owners or patients. It’s within our own region our other non-profits – Coconut Housing Authority, Coconut Tribal Council, the Justice Centre, all of those partnering together.

BC: So lots of organisations have mission statements and values. What do you do to embed those values in the organisation and make them meaningful? How do you use the values to change behaviours? 

IS: Okay. So you’re right – a lot of times you can get a vision and mission that’s up on the wall. For us, it has to be here. You have to grab that passion around what we’re doing to make a change. So one of the things we do is right at the get-go, as we are interviewing, we have a behavioural based interview. It starts there. How do you hire people? So you’re starting to talk about that already – what are the core values – even within that interview process. Does it match up with their personal values? And then we have core concepts – every employee will go through core concepts. We have a longer orientation as we bring people on-board. Again, it’s core that they understand what’s important to us before they even get on the floor and so core concepts is three days with our President CEO, with leadership at Southcentral Foundation, talking about how do we develop relationship? How do we communicate? How do we value one another? How do we understand that everyone has a story?

BC: In addition to customer ownership, you’re also built very strong links with your local communities. Can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve done it and why?

IS: It takes a long of communication. We do a lot of asking. A lot of different venues for asking. So one example is we used to do the paper surveys and you would get one three months after you had your appointment. Well a couple of years ago, we did a pilot with an iPad and tested it out at our annual gathering. At our gathering, we have about 3,000 to 5,000 people that come and see what we’re doing, about 150 booths of partners within the community, our programmes, we had food, fun, culture, native dancing and all of that. So it’s always going to be an opportunity to draw our people in, to have fun like we did at the picnic yesterday. Again, we want them touching our system. We’re drawing those people in that didn’t have confidence in the healthcare system and so we’re drawing them back in. But in doing that, if we’re going to ask and say, “What is that you want to see?” “We want same day appointment. We want our own primary care team. We want to be treated with respect.” And as we’re doing that, then we have to let them know that we went ahead and we’ve made this change. So there’s this whole communication and feedback loop that happens.

BC: So what advice could you give the providers in our National Health System on how they could place patients at the centre of how they change services?

IS: I think if you look at where you’re at. Look around your community and see who is… who are your customers really. Who is it that you’re serving? And I think that’s a place to start. Is there a way that you can – within those communities – bring people in and identify… maybe you identify just a group of people to come in and start conversation. And so you have to be willing to hear – especially at the beginning – what is not working and what do we want changed?


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