FROM FLATLINE TO BOTTOM LINE: How one professor’s management strategy rescued a hospital in crisis

FROM FLATLINE TO BOTTOM LINE: How one professor’s management strategy rescued a hospital in crisis

Lexington Regional Health Center
Photo courtesy Lexington Regional Health Center

Pictured is Lexington Regional Health Center in Lexington, Neb., a hospital that was in danger of closing its doors just 18 months ago — before Briar Cliff assistant professor Lee Elliott came along.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — For one struggling, small-town hospital in the Midwest, the odds of survival were slim.

Just a year-and-a-half ago, Lexington (Neb.) Regional Health Center faced a type of emergency it was ill-equipped to handle — a human resources one — and the hospital soon found itself on the brink of flat-lining. That’s when Lee Elliott, assistant professor of business/human resources at Briar Cliff University, came to the rescue.


Eliott, Lee

Teaching people how to most effectively address some of the most difficult aspects of living leads to improvements in many aspects of work ...


— Lee Elliott, assistant professor of business/human resources at Briar Cliff University


Back on Nov. 21, 2014, citing 3½ years of conflict between their organizations, six doctors and two physician assistants at Plum Creek Medical Group in Lexington resigned their admitting privileges down the street at the Lexington Regional Health Center. They didn’t leave town. Even worse — they began referring patients to other hospitals outside of this community of 10,000. Lexington Regional was left with a part-time, 72-year-old doctor and two nurse practitioners.

Fast forward 19 months, and things at the hospital have changed dramatically. Gross revenues for Lexington Regional have increased from $1.8 million to a record $3.5 million last month. The clinic is full with five doctors, five nurse practitioners and a physician’s assistant. The hospital has received its highest ever patient safety ratings, and the number of patient complaints has dropped more than 60 percent. Employee satisfaction is soaring: 98 percent said they’d recommend Lexington Regional as a place for a friend to work.

What made the difference? 

Three words, according to Elliott: “wisdom-based management.”

It was Elliott whom Lexington Regional called upon to introduce this different approach to management, three days after Plum Creek Medical doctors stopped admitting patients there.

“The intent was to modify the organizational culture of Lexington Regional so that it is wholesome and enriching for all who experience it,” he says.

Elliott, who also has nearly 30 years of professional human resource experience in a hospital setting, went right to work. He began coaching hospital staff and managers on how to have what he calls “high quality conflict” (as Elliott discovered, conflict doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It can also be productive). Elliott and the hospital workers also worked through subjects like “grudge-busting,” “trust-building,” “increasing happiness,” “bouncing back from hardship” and “achieving a state of fulfillment.”

“We’re seeing that teaching people how to most effectively address some of the most difficult aspects of living leads to improvements in many aspects of work — including profits — but also that it creates even more benefits outside of work,” he says. “In effect, people learn how to be much better employees, and in doing so, they learn how to have a much better life.”


The results have been extraordinary. No one expected Lexington Regional to be anywhere near this level of performance.


— Leslie Marsh, CEO, Lexington Regional Health Center


He’s determined to show that creating such a culture will help an organization thrive during trauma; reduce employee turnover; improve quality; increase profitability, productivity and customer retention; and substantially enhance overall work environment.

The ultimate intent of Elliott’s wisdom-based management is to push employers toward becoming what he and other researchers have termed a “virtuous organization.”

Lexington Regional Hospital is working proof of the research’s validity.

“Creating a virtuous organization has been critical — I don’t know what we would have done without it,” says hospital CEO Leslie Marsh. “The results have been extraordinary. No one expected Lexington Regional to be anywhere near this level of performance.”

“(Now), we look forward to going to work every day,” added Kirsten Faessler, director of rehabilitation services at the hospital. “There is a lot of laughter here. Trust is incredibly high. … If someone comes to work grumpy, we leave them alone for a while, and then we go to work on them (using Elliott’s strategy).”

Elliott has applied the research in other places, too. The recruiting effort he led as vice president of human resources at Saint Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, Neb., resulted in numerous awards recognizing the hospital among the top health care employers in the nation. Elliott then expanded his training beyond health care — and trained more than 1,600 people from 125 different companies.

Upcoming High Quality Conflict Workshop

Assistant BCU professor Lee Elliott will lead a “High Quality Conflict Training Workshop” on July 14 in Sioux City; along with Briar Cliff University, Iowa Workforce Development and The Siouxland Initiative. The event, which is free of charge, will train area professionals from all types of industries on how to turn conflict — once considered one of the most destructive forces in the workplace — into something that can propel an organization to thrive.



Tags: Admissions, Business, Faculty, BCU, Business Faculty, Human Resources, Lee Elliott