Editor's note: Coverage of the 2012 ACHE Congress continues in H&HN Daily through Thursday.

CHICAGO — Who comes first in your hospital? Traditionally, many institutions adopt patient-centric mission statements, but during a session Tuesday afternoon at the American College of Healthcare Executives' 2012 Congress, Beryl Companies CEO Paul Spiegelman and Britt Berrett, President of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, part of the Texas Health Resources system, suggested that if hospitals can find meaningful ways to engage, honor and connect with their staff, the rest of their clinical and financial goals, as well as their patient satisfaction scores, will follow.

"If you focus on building internal engagement, that will drive patient engagement and loyalty and that will drive financial sustainability," Spiegelman said. That's a telling statement, given that the Beryl Institute is specifically dedicated to helping hospitals improve the patient experience.

That focus, Spiegelman said, needs to include time for recreational activity away from the patient floors — and not just for the senior leadership team.

"If you take the time to become engaged in your employees' lives and you recognize those events, you will be amazed at what you get," he said.

Berrett agreed, noting that the challenges providers and their employees will face in the coming years — from implementation of the Affordable Care Act and beyond —only can be met by developing cohesive teams that respect each other.

"In 2014, our brains are going to explode with some of this health care reform," Berrett said. "Creating that team is a powerful role and responsibility."

Creating a cohesive team, of course, takes more than simply finding ways for staff to unwind together and bond — it also means leaders must deal with what Berrett described as the "whiners, losers and jerks" that can doom any enterprise, in health care and elsewhere. At one hospital in Berrett's system, financial imperatives forced the institution to eliminate 170 jobs, which leaders used as an opportunity to dispense with low-performing and disengaged employees.

"Our employee engagement scores went from the 51st to the 81st percentile," he said. "If you get rid of whiners, losers and jerks, the quality improves."

Berrett and Spiegelman used much of the presentation to ask the audience of hospital leaders what their organizations were doing to drive employee satisfaction. The answers ranged from monthly, interdisciplinary barbecues to a program that gave physicians a small angel pin if the hospital's foundation received a donation that specifically mentioned their caregiving. At the Beryl Institute, Spiegelman said, employees devote every Sept. 11 to a community service project — which he believes ultimately drives increased focus and engagement.

What's your hospital doing to engage employees? Send your stories to hbush@healthforum.com, and I may feature them in an upcoming column.