“It’s a good thing you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, that’s a pro”, Dieneke Mandema says facetiously looking back on the last year and a half. As President of the Organization and HR, she was one of the people responsible for setting up the Princess Maxima Center.

The center, that is specialized in care, research and education in the field of pediatric oncology, opened its doors for the first time on 18 May. When Mandema took the job, there was no building, and hardly any staff or structure. Unheard of in the current market and a challenge, especially due to the staff shortages in the healthcare sector. “And what is better than being able to work on the mission to cure all kids with cancer while maintaining their quality of life?”

“We started with a blank piece of paper in November 2016. We needed new staff, nurses for example. At the same time, we didn’t have an existing company structure to fall back on. There wasn’t even a building. We were faced with the challenge of starting a center within one year and developing the foundation of the organization at the same time. We also had the opportunity to reinvent the wheel quite often thanks to the innovative character of the brand-new center and adapt it to the needs of kids and their parents”, Mandema says.

Marketing campaign to attract staff

Healthcare professionals are a rare commodity these days. To still be able to fill all positions, we deployed a so-called ‘recruitment factory’, linked to a labor market campaign. “We sold the vacancies like they were products.” The hospital played into the experience of nurses and put children at the center of the campaign. These were then brought to people’s attention via social media. It turned out to be a huge success. “When the campaign went live on Christmas Eve, we had hundreds, thousands of replies within several hours. We definitely didn’t count on that, so we all had to jump in to answer all the questions.”

‘This hospital has a unique company structure’

Hiring people is one thing but having them land in the organization is another. “The biggest groups started on 1 and 18 May. Until then, we were working for the Princess Maxima Center in five different locations. We had a construction trailer, a floor at the UMC Utrecht (Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital) and worked from an office building in Zeist”, Mandema says.

Basing the hospital’s structure entirely on an existing organization wasn’t an option, she explains. “Our basic organization is completely different. With us, the kids don’t go to the doctors, the doctors come to the kids. The entire logistical process of the hospital revolves around the child. That is unique.”

To make sure this ambitious plan wouldn’t strand in chaos, Mandema also decided to hire IG&H. “I really see them as a business partner that thinks along with us and is great at developing processes. They have a pleasant way of looking at what is necessary; they’re action-oriented, but with a human dimension. A business consultant merely making decisions, isn’t going to make it. That doesn’t fit with our center.”

Mapping out structures so processes run smoothly

Mapping out processes, which had an extra layer of complexity due to all the different locations and help systems, was a challenge. “I can still see Anouk standing there with an overview of all the HR and recruitment milestones: ‘No, no wait! I have something else! Guys, be quiet for a minute'”, recalls Mandema. It didn’t take long until several rooms were covered in post-its.

“It also didn’t take long before the document was meters long”, adds Anouk Baars, Health consultant at IG&H. “The starting hospital was using several technical systems, amongst which that of the UMCU. But we also had to reinvent the wheel for ourselves a few times. There was no insight into these processes yet, so we wrote everything down first. Then it became clear that about thirty things had to be in place before someone could start providing healthcare for some jobs.”

That way we figured out which members of staff were trained where, what the team structure looked like and where they could take their questions. “Everyone wants everything to run smoothly, but there needs to be a system for that first. The IT department was recruiting people themselves, for example. The same went for the medical teams. To make sure everyone has the right training, there needs to be someone taking the lead and overlooking all of this”, she says.

Trial and Error

Every week, Baars and Mandema sat around the table with a team to structure. What are we running into, how are we going to take this on and who is responsible for this process?, were the main questions Mandema asked. “It was a challenge for everyone, because no one had experience with a similar project.”

“Sometimes we had to do things the old-fashioned way. I regularly had to walk to and from the UMC Utrecht 5 or 6 times a day to sort out IT- or HR-related cases”, Baars says. The team had an issue with digital authorizations, for example. Which doctors have access to which files? It turned out no one had taken responsibility and it had to be sorted out fast. In this case we had to take care of the problem right away. Definitely important, because children would come to our hospital at the same time as their doctors. Nothing was allowed to go wrong.”

Practical solutions for complicated problems

To prevent any issues, Mandema and Baars ran around like headless chicken the last few months before the opening. “In May, our list of priorities was huge. We realized how complex the situation really was. The fastest way to make sure all new staff could start working right away, was to implement everything they needed into an excel sheet manually. That is why I did that once. I locked myself up for an entire week to make an inventory of things every employee needed and whether they had received it or not. After the opening, we turned this into a structural process”, Baars says.

This challenging time also caused some tension between the teams. “IG&H was definitely a good mediator. They brought people together, especially if something wasn’t taken care of right away. To prevent these situations to become worse, they only looked at the content. Who needs what and how do we arrange that as quickly as possible? Afterwards we looked at how the teams involved could take their responsibilities, so these structures matched the practical applications”, says Mandema .

‘To do lists are getting shorter and shorter’

By now, the center has been open for half a year already. Dozens of children are treated and supported by doctors, nurses and pediatricians daily. They come by for a day treatment or stay at the hospital longer for the more difficult parts of the treatment. For each room the kids stay in, there is an adjoining room to for the parents, a parent-child-unit.

Baars’ and Mandema’s to do lists are getting shorter and shorter. “We are currently determining how the organizations can pick up things themselves. We are past the real hurdles; everyone is helped by the right team and are able to ask their questions to the right person. The hospital has its own routine now.”

Bart ter Horst

Author Bart ter Horst

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