Robert Stephenson

Putting care into the actual running of a care provider, Part 1

Since the 2009 exposé of failings in England’s home care services sector by BBC Panorama, the pervasiveness of care services lacking in dignity and compassion across the health and social care sectors has become increasingly apparent, to the outrage of many, including myself and Penrose Care’s co-founder, Dr. Matthew Knight. Fortunately, things do not need to remain as they are. The health and social care sectors can change and must change. It is my firm belief that this change should start and be spearheaded by providers, who can act far quicker than public authorities.

Drawing from my experience as a healthcare sector analyst, I draw upon lessons from four exceptional organisations which I believe serve as models for putting care back into the actual running of health and social care services providers:

Victorinox, a Swiss non-healthcare company, that demonstrates that company owners can and should safeguard their employees from transitory challenges to the extent possible, by absorbing the bulk of the negative impacts of such challenges opposed to staff firings;

Coloplast, a Danish medical products company, that demonstrates that an organisation can and should undertake corporate transformations to adapt to long-term and ongoing challenges presented by strained health systems with patience and respect for existing staff and maintain a conservatively financed organisation to facilitate an adaptation that is sufficiently long to mitigate the negative impacts on existing staff;

Morriss House, a north London residential care home, that demonstrates that frontline management that commits to treating its workers well and manages in a humble manner in turn achieves excellence in care quality from its staff; and

CUN, a private Spanish hospital, that demonstrates that an ardent committment to the respect for individual dignity of all patients and all staff can imbue an entire organisation with outstanding quality and excellence, all the way from food quality to frontline patient care.

These organisations show that putting dignity and compassion into health and social care services must start within providers themselves, in the way we treat those both within and outside our organisations. There is a recurring theme across these organisations: treat your staff with dignity and respect and they in turn will be more likely to put excellence in their work, including themselves treating others with dignity and respect.

In the first part of this five-part article, I look at Victorinox.

Victorinox – a model for all organisations
Ibach, Switzerland-based Victorinox is not a health care organisation but it offers unique and valuable lessons to all organisations. You may know them for their quitissential Swiss Army brand. Victorinox is a model of how the burdens of macro-level pressures should be shared. With the UK and Europe facing ageing populations and increasingly strained health systems, this is a fundamental topic for discussion.

Typically in Western society, when times are tough, the employees take the pain. I for one cannot remember the numerous times I have read about cyclical firings at major companies, particularly since the 2008-09 global financial crisis. But not at Victorinox. The Elsener family that runs Victorinox has shown that when the going gets tough, they, the owners, take the bulk of the pain.

Following the horrific attacks on my home country on September 11, 2001, airline regulations changed almost overnight. With the tightening of such regulations, Victorinox saw a substantial decline in sales of its iconic pocket knives and its survival was at stake. However, the Elsener family committed to safeguarding its employees from redundancies.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Victorinox halted hiring and overtime, reduced shift times, subcontracted out employees to other local businesses where possible, improved logistics efficiency, and took other measures which resulted in Victorinox having no redundancies as it adapted to the difficult challenges it faced following 9/11.

These measures by the Elsener family are ultimately, the results of dignity and compassion shown to their employees and the families they support. It does not take a huge amount of common sense to realise that the most appropriate individuals to absorb macro-level burdens are owners, not employees, to the extent possible. When employees see and experience this common decency, you would expect they would be loyal and committed to working to a high standard. Health and social care providers should show the same level of decency to their employees, and in doing so, helping ensure their frontline health and social care professionals are in the mindset conducive to providing care with dignity and compassion.
Link to Part 2 of the article series.

Bain, David, “A cut above”: 6 Jul 2011 (campden FB, 2011), available online.
Zonco, Lauriane. “On the cutting edge” (Swiss Style, 2011), available online.
Sims, Josh, “Staying sharp”: May 2012 (CNBC European Business, 2012), available online.

Robert Stephenson-Padron is Penrose Care’s managing director. Prior to founding Penrose Care in 2012 with Dr. Matthew Knight, Mr. Stephenson-Padron was a healthcare equity research analyst at Merrill Lynch in London. Prior to joining Merrill Lynch in in 2010, Mr. Stephenson-Padron was a healthcare equity research analyst at Barclays Capital, also based in London. From 2003-2008, Mr. Stephenson-Padron was a research assistant to epidemiologist Prof. Alison Galvani of Yale University.

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