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Maine Medical Center has nothing ‘bundt’ love and appreciation for employees

How do you nourish team morale and recognize healthcare providers for the unique way they care for patients? If you’re PX leaders at Maine Medical Center, you get creative in how you demonstrate appreciation for the patient experience your caregivers provide.  

In January 2021, Maine Medical Center launched a monthly pilot program for its inpatient, radiology, and emergency departments to deliver gorgeously ornate Nothing Bundt Cake “Bundtlets”—individually packaged personal gourmet bundt cakes with frosting—to celebrate team members who are mentioned by name in NRC Health’s patient surveys.  

“I had seen a similar program at another health system earlier in my career, and I was struck by how well care team members had responded to it,” says Jennifer McCarthy, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer. “I thought the connection between exemplary care and patient experience, and the fact that patients remembered a care team member’s name – even while undergoing the complexity of an inpatient stay – would really resonate with our team here at Maine Medical Center.” 

And McCarthy’s hunch paid off, as care teams quickly embraced “Care So Good They Remembered My Name.” 

Special Comments Deserve Exceptional Moments 

Maine Health, a not-for-profit integrated health system whose vision is to work together to make their communities the healthiest in America, consists of nine local health systems, including Maine Medical Center. At Maine Medical Center, leaders deliver and present Bundtlets wrapped and tagged with individual patient comments to an average of 200 employees per month. Beyond the in-person recognition, leaders also expand the acknowledgment by publishing the celebrations on their online e-news delivery platform. 

“It’s great staff engagement and has been one of the most popular things I have ever been involved in,” says Melissa Retter, Maine Medical Center’s Patient Experience Director. “We can recognize and celebrate, manage up, boost morale, and listen to what our patients are saying and the words they use to describe the exceptional care we’re providing, which is really meaningful.” 

Jeff Gregory, Patient Experience Program Manager, and Retter work robustly with the NRC Health team on humanizing metrics and recognizing the importance of goals, percentages, and percentiles, but they also understand that the program is more than just numbers. They agree that it’s about the collective human experience that aligns with their mission and the experience of connecting to a patient’s story to transition from transactional to relational care. 

“It’s successful because we’re not just talking about goals and metrics,” Retter says. “We’re sharing heartfelt words and emotions that connect our frontline caregivers and reconnect them back to their ‘why’ of being in healthcare. Maybe they’re having a rough day with their why and their ability to be fully present in the moment. This helps.” 

The program has been so contagious, it drives employee motivation to go the extra mile. Retter says they have overheard employees encouraging each other, saying, ‘It’s time to earn a bundt!’  

“That sentiment really extends beyond the sugary goodness that is the cake and the dessert factor into a cultural kind of statement on how we’ve socialized that mindset of, ‘It might be a challenging situation with a patient, it might be something that I have to navigate, but I’m going to go give it my all,’” she says. “It’s been so profound for us as leaders to hear that employees are working toward earning a bundt. It’s so much more than just dessert.” 

Gregory agrees. “It brings out competitiveness among staff members who found out one of their coworkers got a Bundtlet, and they want to ensure that they get one the next month. I think it generates a lot of competition, but also goodwill. I think the staff really appreciate it.”  

Research, Logistics, Availability—Oh My! 

Here are six valuable tips from Maine Medical Center’s PX leaders on replicating a similar innovative employee-recognition program. 

  1. Funding: Support to fund employee-recognition programs is critical. Given the huge splash their program has made for Maine Medical Center, PX leaders say it is well worth it, but note that it works best when executive sponsorship helps empower the orchestration of such a program. 
  2. Research: PX leaders say it can be quite an endeavor to dig into Epic to find out where an employee works and retrieve their last name. “It takes ten or more hours per week of solid work to ascertain who was complimented via patient survey, because many times patients don’t remember the last names of staff,” Gregory says. “The patient comment may mention an Emily, but there could be three Emilys working in that unit. Still, while it’s a heavy lift, it’s well worth it.” 
  3. Deciding on a product: For Maine Medical Center, it came down to presentation and funding. Retter explains that their local Nothing Bundt Cake franchise hit it out of the ballpark regarding the quality of the cake, which has a good shelf life, is varied in flavor, and offers gluten-free options. She says the local bakery has been elated to partner with them and sees the program as a meaningful endeavor for the healthcare community. “The vein of the goal is kind of a broad-stroke celebration,” Retter says. “We recognize that sometimes somebody might prefer a plate of carrots and a side of ranch dip. I would encourage organizations to be innovative with the gesture they select.” 
  4. Portability of product: When selecting a product, Retter advises considering the portability of products, so that whatever gesture an organization chooses, you can easily put it in a car, carry it around, and put it on a cart to deliver it while maintaining the integrity of the presentation without any hassles. Also, it’s important to ensure the quality and shelf-life of a product in the event it takes a day or two to reach the recipient.  
  5. Delivery support: Gregory says that on the day they deliver the Bundtlets, delivery is an all-hands-on-deck approach, in which they divide and conquer to deliver the cakes to various hospital areas. With any program of this kind, staff will have to drive the gifts to off-site locations, so ensure you have surge support before you launch a similar initiative. 
  6. Availability of recipient: PX leaders say that not everybody can pick up their Bundtlet when they’re notified, because some of them are off-site or don’t necessarily come into the hospital frequently. (Hence the importance of the shelf life of the reward product.) For Maine Medical Center, if a recipient hasn’t picked up their Bundtlet after five days, they’ll take the cake around to various departments—or randomly give it to an employee in the hallway with a word of thanks for all they do. 

Find out how NRC Health can enable you to recognize what matters most to each person you serve.