Ann L. Hendrich, MSN

Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow, 1998

    • February 2, 2005

Position: Vice President
Ascension Health Corporate Office
St. Louis, Mo.

Fellowship Goals
A Hoosier native who grew up helping on the family farm, Ann Hendrich earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., in 1980 and six years later a master's degree from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. After clinical hospital experience in Terre Haute, she moved to Indianapolis' large Methodist Hospital (later part of Clarian Health Partners). There, she rose through a series of positions, eventually becoming senior vice president for patient care services/senior nurse executive.

In 1998, Hendrich was heading up development of an innovative 56-bed coronary care unit in the existing hospital facility. The $13-million project aimed to consolidate the coronary critical care patient room and the step-down or transitional care room into a single private room that could adapt to the patient's changing care needs. There was resistance from some hospital staff to the plan, but Hendrich was convinced the new setup promised numerous advantages, including reduction in the cost, waste and care fragmentation that results from in-hospital patient transfers.

In the RWJ Executive Nurse Fellows Program, Hendrich saw an opportunity to increase her knowledge of engineering and other fields outside the healing arts that were necessary to improving the care-giving environment. For Hendrich, Methodist Hospital's futuristic cardiac unit was only a beginning. "The opportunity to take shell space and not replicate the present and familiar but integrate environmental design, technology and a new care delivery model is imperative," she wrote in her application.

Fellowship Experience
Planning and design of the new unit were already well underway, but management of its implementation and evaluation presented Hendrich with a challenging fellowship project. The unit opened in early 1999 and won widespread acclaim, including special recognition from the Center for Health Care Design, a nonprofit organization. Additionally, the unit received the AACN/SCCM/AIA award for the best national design in critical care delivery, as well as a Mayor's award for beautification in the healthcare category.

The new unit produced improvements in patient satisfaction, cost of care per day, medical errors, patient falls and other categories, Hendrich reported. But all was not rosy. The new rooms include 100 square feet of space just for the family's use. Some critical care nurses were unhappy with the new, merged environment and left—in reaction, in some cases, to having to deal continually with patients' family members, Hendrich said. Also, the arrangement ran counter to federal billing regulations, requiring an appeal to the Health Care Financing Administration (now the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services).

"At some points, I did feel the winds of resistance would win," Hendrich admitted. From fellowship staff and seminar speakers, she got advice and affirmation that helped her persevere and prevail. The central message, she says, was to press ahead. Following the fellowship's conclusion, Hendrich has published a number of journal articles about the project, hospital designs, patient flow and related topics.

Hendrich, whose career had already made her an experienced author and speaker on professional topics, found some of the seminar content too elementary, although she says she saw improvement as the program progressed. She particularly appreciated the guidance from Core Resource Team members, especially Janis Bellack, Ph.D., R.N., a professor and administrator at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Hendrich's designated coach, and George Sweazey, a consultant from Greensboro, N.C., who specializes in leadership training. The "360-degree feedback" assessment data that Hendrich received from her workplace colleagues via the fellowship program led her to adjust her leadership style, she says.

Hendrich used part of her fellowship funds to hire Sweazey to participate in a two-day retreat for her top staff—a session that she reported had a positive and lasting effect. She also used some of the money to attend a conference put on by business thinker and author Michael Hammer. Attempts by the fellowship staff to match Hendrich with a regular mentor did not work out, but eventually she found one on her own at a critical juncture—Blair L. Sadler, M.D., president and CEO of Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego, Calif., and vice chair of the board of directors of the Center for Health Care Design.

Fellowship Impact
About a year after she completed the fellowship, Hendrich left Clarian/Methodist and struck out on her own as a consultant, planning to help health care organizations with patient flow, design and workforce training. She has just received notice that the American Academy of Nursing will induct her as a Fellow, and she will start a doctorate in Health Administration, both in the fall of 2003. "It was just time, personally and professionally," Hendrich said. Although the fellowship was not the cause of this major career move, it was a factor. She explains that the people she met through the program and the personal feedback she got from them encouraged her to take a fresh look at her place in health care and the potential for her to have a larger impact. "The fellowship made me think more about the role of a leader and risk-taking," she says.

Hendrich's leadership in the field has continued to grow. The Institute of Medicine commissioned her to author chapter six of its book, Keeping Patients Safe: Transforming the Work Environment of Nurses (with Nelson Lee). In November 2003, the Center for Health Design awarded her its national Changemaker Award for improving the environment of caregivers and patients and their families in acute care hospitals. In January 2004, she was elected to serve as a board member to the Center for Health Design.

The NPO staff views Hendrich as a prime example of the influential nurse leader that the program is seeking to encourage. By leaving her hospital position to start a consulting business, and now as a corporate Vice President for Clinical Excellence Operations with Ascension Health, she took her nursing experience and passion to a higher level, even a national one, says Marilyn P. Chow, director of the fellowship program. She is building her project work into a career, Chow adds.