Aiming to create an all-encompassing, all-inclusive way to improve the patient experience, one New Jersey health system opened its doors and started taking suggestions from all “movers and shakers” across the organization.

What materialized was Atlantic Health System’s Healing Culture Council, comprising dozens of stakeholders across the five-hospital system, from executives to custodians. Those involved shed their titles at the door and brought ideas on how to improve care from both provider and patient perspectives. They created a laundry list of ideas, many of which have been implemented, including a 24/7 visitation policy for family members, hospital art projects, pet therapy and electronic video translation services.

Trish O’Keefe, R.N., former chief nursing officer, interim president of Atlantic’s Morristown Medical Center and co-chair of the culture council, believes their efforts have helped the health system to stand out from its competition.

“It is a differentiator for patients, for families, for the community and it is the right thing to do,” O’Keefe says. “We need to evolve in health care to not just be clinically focused, but to also offer a healthy environment. We need to look at doing things differently and this is a critical part of that.”

The council roots stretch back to 2010, when the health system tweaked its mission statement, “Deliver high-quality, safe, affordable patient care,” to include the words “within a healing culture.” About a year later, the committee was established, but leaders wanted to ensure that it didn’t become another sounding board to air complaints, O’Keefe says. “We wanted active people who were interested in changing the culture.”

They identified a cross section of about 40 people from all over the organization to bring ideas forward. Each brought a friend from a different background. Nurses brought someone from the call center; a president might have invited a housekeeper. “We filled the room with believers — people who really wanted to improve what we’re doing,” says Anne Rooke, R.N., a board member for Atlantic and the other co-chair.

Four years later, Atlantic has about 100 stakeholders who take part in consensus building at the monthly meetings, and leadership has taken a keen interest. Changing the visitation policy to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was a game changer for the system’s mindset, Rooke says.

New projects on their plate include efforts to cut down on jargon and improve the legibility of information coming out of the hospital. The committee is also aiming to ensure that phones are answered by a hospital employee during lunch hours, so that patients don’t get a recording or answering service. Almost any topic is open for discussion if addressing it can improve the patient experience.

“There’s really nothing that we can’t touch, and since we have a lot of leadership across the council — the hospital president, the CEO and some board members including myself — we feel comfortable doing so,” Rooke says.