Catharina Hospital and CSU: health as a common goal

It feels like an exceptional opportunity, a tour of the Catharina Hospital, one of the most prominent top clinical hospitals in the Netherlands. It is the place where they have perfectly mastered the profession of medical entrepreneurship and where one certainty reigns: the unexpected can happen at any moment. The invitation for the tour landed in the letterbox of service provider CSU Total Care based in Uden, where they gladly accepted it. If only because of the shared arena in which the medical and facilities sectors recognise each other: enhancing and contributing to health.

Text Ronald Frencken Image Scala Fotografie

Anyone who has been following the newspapers recently will know that the Catharina Hospital has been facing some tough criticism over the past few years. Never a dull moment there, something that also applies to CSU, which was confronted with unexpected challenges (as well as opportunities) when Covid arrived. How do powerful, stable organisations with an important regional function manage unexpected situations such as Covid? And, how do you stay on track during these times? After all, that’s exactly what patients, clients and stakeholders expect of you.Masks on, masks off

During a visit to the various medical departments in the Catharina, where as a lay person you are only welcome when things get serious, CSU board member Esmée Ficheroux talks to her hostess and board member Geranne Engwirda of the Catharina about her operational management and answers questions from Geranne herself. Good to know: as we are writing this, the virus rules in some medical healthcare departments are being eased – but not everywhere. This prompts some fumbling and chuckling. Face mask on, mask off, mask on again, and off again. The protocols that will follow Esmée and Geranne throughout the tour.

Step aside, step aside, step aside

You don’t need to be a business economist to understand the differences between the business cases of Catharina Hospital and CSU. Looking for their similarities is more of a challenge, but they are in fact there. Esmée is well aware of this too, as we hop aside in the emergency hall to give two fast-moving paramedics together with stretcher and patient, some space. “I think that CSU and Catharina Hospital are both a reflection of society. What happens in society is directly tangible in our organisations. The social interest of CSU lies in becoming a better employer for 27,000 employees. This leads to healthier employees and a greater sense of well-being, which in turn results in a safer and healthier working environment for our clients. That is where there is a striking parallel with the Catharina.”

‘For us, growth is driven by knowledge. Providing unlimited healthcare would make our work unaffordable’

Growth without growing

Geranne and Esmée embrace growth. Never against the odds, however, and always cautiously. “I think that in a commercial family business such as CSU, the business model is partly driven by profit”, says Geranne. “For us, growth is driven by knowledge. Providing unlimited healthcare would make our work unaffordable. This is the dilemma we face. Technology helps us provide more specialised care, more and better work, but at the same time it also decelerates growth. Technology includes, for example, smart infusion points that give nurses extra time to do actual people work. In other words, growth without growing.” Esmée adds: “We are striving to achieve a balance between profit and growth. Both need to be done in a socially responsible way. Intelligent applications help us achieve this. Smart bins that use an app to indicate whether they need to be emptied, or intelligent workspaces that use sensors to collect data so that we know where they need to be cleaned. These kinds of applications make our work more interesting. They bring more depth to the work and give it new momentum. That’s our path toward growth.”

GBV guideline

During Covid, the period when both organisations had all hands on deck, it was primarily about virus management. Creative entrepreneurship, in other words. This hectic period made an impression on Esmée. “Many of our clients’ properties were empty. They were sometimes in dire financial straits. We also felt the impact immediately. We then drew up our Covid clause: our policy during Covid. This included the commitment to not letting people go, as well as our intention to make proper agreements with clients. Our rationale was that we would share the burden. In those days, our employees also came up with solutions themselves, so that they could remain active in other positions within our organisation. Especially in the early days, hardly anything was known about Covid and the guidelines issued by RIVM were limited. We urged our employees to be careful about their own health and the health of others, and not to lose sight of our own ‘GBV guideline’: Using common sense. Esmée looks back on Covid as a learning experience. “It gave us the opportunity to focus on innovations. Our Hologram Hostess for example, the digital, virus-resistant hostess that welcomes you into the company, or the hygiene hook that helps prevent contact with doors and other objects, and therefore contamination.”

Step back, and move forward

Faded applause

Geranne saw it first hand: employees who, in the face of considerable work pressure, were always ready to step up to the challenge – long after the applause for their work had faded. “The feeling that we were standing together helped us to stand up to Covid. Employees whose own personal drive helped them come up with creative solutions. This compelled them to decide, for example, to be posted in the ICU department, provided, of course, that their competence profile allowed for this. You also noticed that this pressure was accelerating the pace of innovation, which we were already more or less busy working on. Video calls with patients at home, oxygen at home, remote monitoring, smart bandages. Extra ICU capacity was created and a test facility for face masks was set up when these were not yet sufficiently reliable. These were all developments that quickly reached maturity in a creative flow.”

‘The feeling that we were standing together helped us to stand up to Covid. Employees whose own personal drive helped them come up with creative solutions’

The past two years have brought a great deal of good to both entrepreneurs and their organisations. Esmée: “The period reminded us once again that we are responsible for a special population of employees who are at the heart of society: cleaning professionals.” What made Geranne hopeful was the professionalism that staff members displayed when it came to putting themselves above the vaccination debate. “Providing or not providing care to non-vaccinated patients was a non-issue for us. You just provide medical care. You can compare it to people who smoke, drive too fast or go skiing. If it goes wrong, you can come to us. It’s that simple. The entire period was a valuable exercise in finding the balance between hectic healthcare demands and what we could reasonably expect from our employees. There is a limit to how thin you can stretch the elastic line. Patient care requires warmth. But the fact that you can actually rely on solutions from the staff without specifically asking for them as an organisation, has warmed my heart.”

Fish bowl

Guaranteed hustle and bustle: the fish bowl. Otherwise known as the epicentre of urgent care, the emergency department, which is surrounded by sparkling clean windows. Here, specialised emergency personnel manage the influx of patients with acute conditions. Geranne: “The emergency department is efficient. Providing fast care is the highest priority, which ensures a good flow and allows us to give acute care to every patient immediately. This means acting quickly and planning well. It involves a lot of technology and data, but it is mainly the people who make the difference. Walking through Catharina Hospital, with its corridors, departments and waiting rooms, you cannot miss the countless facility staff. “We want to minimise the burden of facility tasks on our medical staff as much as possible. The more they are able to offer patients dedicated care, the better. Stocking, cleaning, feeding, keeping equipment working: these are tasks for our facility staff members, just like with CSU. Thankfully, there are also more and more smart, data-driven applications coming out here too, so you have more time to spare.”

Fear of missing out

Working towards a healthier workplace

Smart, data-driven technology will also dictate the future of CSU. Esmée starts to happily talk about it when we arrive at the PACU, the Post Anaesthetic Care Unit near the cardiovascular centre. “Basically, the facilities sector is all about planning cleaning work. I don’t think that’s a very sexy term. While as a cleaner you want your work to matter. We do everything we can to make the work more interesting and more efficient. For example, by creating space for hospitality tasks or by using technology to connect people. We do this with the cleaning app, for example. The vision that a focus on services, our core business, will ultimately lead to a safer and healthier work floor, is at an early stage. It’s exciting to be pioneering this with CSU.”

MR Linac

Like many other sectors, CSU is struggling with a shortage of employees. On top of that, during Covid, employees transferred to other companies. Geranne and Esmée agree that innovative strength is a great way of retaining people. “One example”, says Geranne, “is our progressive and promising MR Linac. This is a state-of-the-art tumour radiation therapy device that allows you to take images at the same time, which can be used to target tumours much more precisely. Specialised employees have even moved to the Brainport region specifically to be able to work with this device. That is how innovative power is able to attract new employees.”

‘Specialised employees have even moved to the Brainport region specifically to be able to work with this device. That is how innovative power is able to attract new employees.’

Heart, head and hands

The tour of Catharina Hospital provides a good example of an organisation that has to find the balance every day in a hectic period between its core activities and the unpredictable nature of a virus, for example. This actually holds true for any organisation, whether they work with their heads, as in the hospital, or with their hands, as in facilities organisations such as CSU. Relying on technology is worthwhile, but so is relying on your heart. “Look at your people, and truly try to see them”, says Geranne. These insights from directors of large organisations will also ring true for small and medium-sized enterprises.

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