When Rhonda Scott joined South Fulton Medical Center as chief nursing officer in December 2001, she found morale in the nursing department low, dependence on agency help high and some staff nurses ready to leave.
Patient-satisfaction scores left the 392-bed East Point, Ga., hospital in 105th place out of the 109 facilities then owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. Located just south of Atlanta's city limits, the hospital was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when it had been purchased by Tenet eight months earlier. Despite the problems, "I knew we could turn the place around," says Scott, who holds a doctorate in nursing science and clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and R.N. credentials.
Turn it around she did. The hospital's low scores on the survey, which gauges patients' willingness to return, changed dramatically. By January 2003, one year after holding the 105th spot, South Fulton rose to No. 2 among 114 Tenet hospitals. In recent months, more than 90% of the hospital's patients rated their care as either a nine or a perfect 10-qualifying for five-star status within the Tenet system. Nursing scores made the greatest impact on the reversal.
"In nursing, we dictate the outcomes. Patients are in the hospital because they need nursing care. Otherwise they could receive treatment and go home. If patients get great patient care, they are willing to return," Scott says.
She is described as a dynamic, hands-on, can-do person. Called Dr. Rhonda by employees, she works tirelessly to achieve quality patient care through nursing excellence. She performs patient rounds every day, spends hours on the nursing units and stays connected with every employee on all shifts. "I like to be next to my staff to see the challenges they are facing," she says.
Her experience as a clinical nurse specialist puts a premium on clinical practice, education and research. "The CNS is the resource to staff for managing the sickest patients and must stay current with research to know the best practices. This is what drove me to get my doctorate-to make sure the recommendations for best practices were based on great research," she says.
As an administrator, practitioner, consultant, speaker and writer, Scott, 40, asks nurses to have the courage to excel and gain professional satisfaction in the process. She delivered a speech on those themes at a South Fulton recruiting event and inspired 17 nurses to join the staff.
She also goes to great lengths to recognize outstanding work. She writes about 200 "thank you" notes each month to staff members who are singled out in patient surveys for giving great care. Her concern for patients and her attention to staff are paying off. Today nurse vacancies exist in only one unit, critical care, which is a nationwide issue. The ratio of agency nurses has fallen from 40% to 6%.
Scott says she stays highly committed to her goal of providing a safe hospital environment and great healthcare. Regarding the job done to date at South Fulton, she says, "I know we surprised a lot of people."