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Changes Ahead? Resilience Helps Make the Leap

March 7, 2019
Fish escape to freedom concept

When Kathleen LaRaia led the consolidation of Munson Healthcare’s 15 cancer care departments into a comprehensive community cancer center, she knew she had her work cut out for her. “The workplace and cultural environment were going to change significantly,” says LaRaia, MS, Executive Director of Oncology Services at Munson in Traverse City, Michigan. “We had to determine how to help staff members best accept the upcoming changes.”

But when planning for the transition, LaRaia didn’t fully recognize just how much foundation-laying she had to do. When she held the first of two information sessions for the 160 staff members who would be relocating to the new cancer center, she took note of employees’ perplexed expressions as they entered the room. “They didn’t recognize anyone,” says LaRaia. “I saw the siloed mindset that they had developed. They didn’t know who else was involved in taking care of their patients. I didn’t expect that.”

Bringing into one building all of the individuals involved in the many facets of oncology care at Munson required LaRaia to take into account the importance of promoting cultural resiliency when planning for large-scale institutional change. On Friday, March 22, LaRaia will share her story about the creation of Munson Healthcare’s comprehensive community cancer care center at the Clinician Resiliency and Workforce Issues Workshop, part of the ACCC 45th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit in Washington, D.C.  Here is a preview of some of the lessons learned that she will be discussing.

  • Spot the opportunities: When she saw the confused faces of Munson’s oncology staff at that first information session, LaRaia sensed an opportunity. “This was a chance to build relationships,” she says. Munson Healthcare’s oncology clinicians and support staff were scattered in multiple counties throughout Michigan. LaRaia had one year before all of those people would be working under the same roof.


  • Empower staff to lead: LaRaia resolved to enable staff members to take the lead in their own consolidation and work together to make the transition as smooth and efficient as possible. LaRaia says she felt those directly affected by the move were best positioned to answer the big question the new cancer center posed: How do you get a large group of people long acclimated to specific cultures and different environments prepared for new ways of doing things?


  • Reduce fear of change by engaging staff in the process: “In examining how to approach this project, we identified more fear than excitement about the upcoming change,” recalls LaRaia. “So we spent a full year planning with people from each group that was transitioning. We got them involved in the process, and we assembled topical work groups to keep people engaged.”


  • Create a feedback loop: LaRaia started holding events that focused on relationship-building, and she worked with staff volunteers to create workflow processes for the new center. A transition monitoring team regularly met with designated staff members from each department and communicated regular updates to their colleagues. “Empathy workshops” invited staff to share their trepidations about the changes to come and suggest practical solutions.

Three years after cutting the ribbon on Munson’s consolidated cancer center, LaRaia has collected a wealth of best practices to share. At her Deep Dive Workshop, she will address how the lessons learned at Munson can apply to other organizations facing significant cultural shifts. “There is no textbook for doing this,” says LaRaia. “You have to learn to confront issues as they arise.”


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