For Alicia Schulhof, being president of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is about many things, but core elements focus on caring for the team of more than 3,000 employees and taking care of hundreds of thousands of patients and their families.
She started her tenure in July 2021 by spending the night in the St. Petersburg, Florida, hospital to gain insight into the patient experience and the staff’s work to meet their needs.
“I wanted to experience the environment as a family member and spend time with our night shift teams,” she says. “I am awed by how hard these team members have been working day in and day out, all while responding to a global pandemic.”
Schulhof, who has four children of her own, took on the job as COVID-19 affected everything from patient volumes, to finances and staffing challenges. As she has gained appreciation for work at all levels of the organization, she has balanced her time between meeting short-term needs and charting a course for long-term growth.
“We’ve accomplished a lot — and while much of that groundwork had been laid before my arrival,” she says, “we’ve also made great strides working with our teams and our communities to begin to chart our path forward over the next 10 years.”
Caring for the Team
From that night sleeping in the hospital on, Schulhof has had a focus on caring for the team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.
She knows the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has put on everyone, not just the clinical teams. Many have adapted to masking, distancing and remote work. Visitor restrictions created challenges in working with patients and families. Sick colleagues and a shortage of nurses meant more work and more stress.
“My top priority is focusing on caring for our team,” Schulhof says. “We offer many resources for wellbeing and are encouraging staff take time to care for themselves during these difficult times, but we will continue to work with the team to address these challenges. Our leadership team is actively working on recruitment, retention and wellbeing activities, along with identifying long-term solutions to staffing.”
Some of the recruiting efforts have paid off. Since Schulhof started, the hospital has hired new medical directors for the Maternal, Fetal & Neonatal Institute and the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute as well as a new chief financial officer, chief operating officer and many other roles throughout the organization.
“Our care teams are working harder than ever before and the health care workforce across the country is shrinking,” Schulhof says. “We must continue to connect and engage with the hearts and minds of our team, investing in their wellbeing, health and professional development.
“This team is special. I talk with patients and their families each day and, hands down, the most frequent comment I receive is how parents are overwhelmed by the love and hope they feel when in our care. It is not uncommon I speak with a parent who has researched their options across the nation to find the very best care for their child and that is how they meet us. Our parents trust us to deliver world-class care to their children. It is truly the most mission-driven, committed and quality focused team in children’s health.”
Excellent Patient Care
The trust those parents and families put in the hospital is paramount to Schulhof, and she strives to help the team exceed those expectations.
Patient safety and quality care have been Schulhof’s clinical priority from the start.
“Our team is laser focused on quality and safety outcomes,” she says. “We have learned and grown from our past experiences and used those lessons to be even better each day. We have incorporated layers of rigor and review throughout our organization and applied the most comprehensive process improvement techniques to ensure we are delivering the very best outcomes to our children.”
The efforts, which began before Schulhof started, are paying off. The Leapfrog Group, a national not-for-profit patient safety and quality organization, named Johns Hopkins All Children’s one of only eight top children’s hospitals in the country in December. The Joint Commission conducted its triennial survey in the spring, giving the hospital high marks.
Schulhof also seeks to expand the opportunities for patients and families to get access to services at the main campus in St. Petersburg, nine other Outpatient Care locations and through collaborations with other hospitals where Johns Hopkins All Children’s provides care for infants and children.
“In my time here, it’s evident that our team consistently provides exceptional and compassionate care to our children and families,” she says. “We are nimbler than ever before so we must continue on that same trajectory to meet patients where they are and make health care, overall, more efficient and easier. We aim to be a leader in providing a seamless system of pediatric care.”
Since Schulhof joined, the hospital hired a surgeon to start a neurosurgery program in Fort Myers in collaboration with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, began providing neonatology services at Manatee Memorial Hospital and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, and continued expanded telemedicine offerings spurred by the pandemic.
Among initiatives on the main campus, Johns Hopkins All Children’s implemented a new electronic medical records system and started the Eat to Thrive program, which provides healthy food to the families of patients with specific chronic diseases. The program helps families choose and learn to prepare foods based on the disease they are trying to manage.
“We believe this will produce better outcomes for the patient and family as well as prepare them to shop when they have other resources available to them,” Schulhof says.
Honors and Recognitions
In addition to Leapfrog and the Joint Commission, the hospital has had several other recognitions and achievements over the past year.
The American College of Surgeons designated Johns Hopkins All Children’s as a Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center, a verification of excellence that is held by fewer than 50 children’s hospitals in the United States. The surgery program includes the Center for Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), the nation’s only unit devoted exclusively to care for babies with CDH.
U.S. News & World Report ranked the hospital nationally in four specialty areas for 2022-2023 — neurology and neurosurgery; endocrinology and diabetes; nephrology; and orthopaedics — and made it the #1 children’s hospital in the Tampa Bay region and the west coast of Florida.
The Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital R.N. Residency Program was awarded the prestigious Accreditation with Distinction designation through the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Practice Transition Accreditation Program (PTAP).
The hospital has won National Institutes of Health grants and had research published in many prestigious academic journals, including results of the multinational Kids-DOTT clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That trial already has begun to change clinical practice in the treatment of a growing number of young patients worldwide.
“I can’t take credit for these,” Schulhof says. “Much of the groundwork was laid well before I arrived, but I can shine a light on the work of my outstanding colleagues.”
Growing toward the Future
Increasingly, Schulhof has been focusing on the future.
The hospital is starting a clinically integrated network — a physician-led, physician-governed collaboration between community physicians and the hospital that can benefit both local practices and patients by increasing access to specialists, shared data, shared standards of care and greater teamwork.
Schulhof also has been on a listening tour as she seeks input into the strategic plan for the next 10 years.
“It’s essential that we hear from our staff, patients and families about what is working well and what we can improve upon in order to provide the best possible care for our children and continue to expand on our mission around treatment, research, education and advocacy,” she says.
The Johns Hopkins All Children’s strategic plan envisions becoming the premier clinical and academic pediatric health system in the Southeastern United States by 2033 by focusing on these pillars:
- Be a Trusted Leader
- Make Johns Hopkins All Children’s Easy
- Cultivate Healthy and Thriving Communities
- Inspire a Culture of Innovation and Discovery
- Pursue Excellence
“Our team is exceptional and resilient with hearts and minds capable of accomplishing big and challenging goals,” Schulhof says. “I am excited for what we are able to do for kids and families. We have an important role to play in growing a healthy and thriving community. I’m more optimistic today than the day I started. I am honored to be part of this incredible team and I look forward to the future and all that we will accomplish together.”