December 10, 2018
Health Care Heroes Awards 2018

Hartford Hospital's Veronneau helps patients, families in crisis

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Patricia Veronneau (center) has helped boost Hartford Hospital's patient-satisfaction scores by improving communication between doctors and patients.

Category: Nurse

Patricia Veronneau

Employer: Hartford Hospital

Title: Director of Acute Patient and Family Transitions

When Mike Matteo's sister Allison, a special needs patient, was transferred to Hartford Hospital last month with advanced pneumonia, he and his parents did not know what to expect.

Allison was put on a ventilator and, according to Matteo, required complicated surgeries and a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU), which, given her special needs, presented a unique set of challenges.

Despite the stress and uncertainty, Matteo says, he and his family found, in his words, their "guardian angel" — Patricia "Patty" Veronneau, Hartford Hospital's director of acute patient and family transitions.

"Patty not only helped make sure the medical care was facilitated, but afterwards made sure Allison had someone with her 24-hours a day because of her unique needs as a patient," Matteo said.

But it was Veronneau's attention to the needs of Matteo's family that left him most impressed.

"She anticipated my parents' every need, including coordinating a place for them to stay the night of [my sister's] surgery and even making sure they knew where to park," Matteo recounted. "All these little things that made a wonderful difference and allowed them to focus on my sister."

It's a role Veronneau has played for countless families in crisis, since assuming her new role a year-and-a-half ago, said Hartford HealthCare President Jeffrey Flaks.

"She is the very definition of a caregiver," Flaks said, noting that as the level one trauma center for the region, which includes a transplantation center and Life Star, Veronneau is often involved in the most difficult circumstances that patients and families face. "She helps people not only with the technical care they receive, but also helps them work through a period [in their life] of immense vulnerability. It's a gift she has."

And a gift that's in great demand, says Cheryl Ficara, Hartford HealthCare's regional vice president of patient care services at Hartford Hospital. As the number of patients transitioning to Hartford Hospital — currently nearly 500 per month — has increased steadily in recent years, the hospital discovered through surveys that it was not making patients and families feel, in their time of crisis, that they were communicated with effectively in their transition.

"We created this role for Patty to make sure these families understand the healthcare professionals providing care to them and that our staff understands the patient's and family's needs as well," Ficara said.

That's no small task, given Hartford Hospital has 7,000 employees and 700 patients in the organization at any one time. But Veronneau has succeeded by establishing organizational systems to share information and by creating an environment focused on being the best for its patients.

"Hartford Hospital has always been high tech, but we also want to be high touch," Veronneau said.

That has not only meant more personal interaction with patients and families for Veronneau, but also more in-person coaching and mentoring of front-line staff. Through the systems she created, managers get a daily update on new patients and families coming in and from which communities. If there are any issues, staff feed them back to Veronneau, who works to resolve them, while supporting the emotional needs of patients and families under extreme stress.

This new approach to holistic patient experience — under Veronneau's leadership — is working, Ficara said. Hartford Hospital's patient satisfaction scores have improved dramatically in the past year.

"She is role modeling the leadership behaviors for our organization every day," Ficara said.

While survey results are an important metric, Hartford HealthCare's Flaks says Veronneau's impact on patients and families goes far beyond a score.

"She's with people during the most intense, vulnerable moment in their life," he said. "The rawness of those moments binds her with these families for life because of their gratitude and personal connection and because she is so invested in them in those moments."

He says patients and families that have interacted with Veronneau over the years have invested millions in the hospital as a way to show their appreciation.

Grateful families have helped put TVs in every emergency department, finished funding lounges, helped build ICUs and develop nursing education funds, Flaks says.

"Her impact on the organization is immeasurable, but it comes from her impact on each individual and their family," he said.

Mike Matteo, whose sister Allison is on the mend, can relate.

"She's a special person who will always have a special place in the Matteo family's heart," he said. "I am sure we will be friends with her for many years to come."

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