In pursuit of excellence
Bernie Washington on how her ‘fire to thrive’ is making a powerful impact on Novant Health
For as long as Bernie Washington can remember, she has had a standing weekly dinner date with her mother. During those dinners, they talk about life and goals and planning, and the ritual is as important for Washington now as it was when she was a child.
“Those dinners helped me to mature at a young age,” said Washington, senior director and deputy chief of staff at Novant Health. “I have strong, courageous women in my life, and my mom and grandmother taught me to march to the beat of my own drum and live life with intention and grace. I’ve always been committed to excellence and to providing the most value I can, no matter the challenge.”
That pursuit of excellence has had a direct and valuable impact on Novant Health.
Washington first joined the organization in 2010, working in community and corporate relations. She accepted a leadership role with the Charlotte Hornets in 2013 and then returned to Novant Health in 2016 as director of operations for Novant Health’s foundations.
“I deeply enjoy working for Novant Health, and I was able to continue to work under the leadership of Kim Henderson, who is senior vice president and system chief of staff,” she said. “I believe in and model Novant Health’s culture and mission. Being able to contribute to both in meaningful ways and support our vision and strategy for healthier and stronger communities is important to me.”
When she returned to Novant Health, Washington spearheaded the launch of a digital presence for the foundation, including the development of SupportNovantHealth.org, the launch of several social media platforms and the creation of a robust marketing and communications strategy.
“My objective was to establish foundational capabilities and processes so our foundation system could optimize for the future. I consider digital products to be critical capabilities, and at the time, we didn’t have any,” Washington said. “Once the foundation’s site and social media platforms launched, my team and I were proud of how our work elevated the presence of the foundation and increased connectivity with donors, patients and team members. The response from our foundation leaders and our donors was especially rewarding.”
To ensure continued success, Washington and her team monitored the new website over the course of the next year, analyzing the data to understand how the digital presence was performing and to identify areas where it could be improved.
“It wasn’t a matter of launching the website so we could move onto the next thing. It was about constantly evolving it, continuing to nip, tuck, adjust and improve,” Washington said.
The results spoke for themselves.
“When we met for our one-year evaluation of the performance of the site, I was thrilled to report it had received 20,000 visits. We processed more than 900 online gift transactions and gained 500 new donors,” Washington said. “Launching the online giving presence expanded our options for giving. These days, that’s what donors have come to expect.”
A little more than a year after launching the foundation’s digital presence, Washington took on her current role as senior director and deputy chief of staff at Novant Health. In this position, she has witnessed firsthand the unexpected effects of COVID-19 and the strength of Novant Health’s leadership teams in their response and navigation of the crisis.
“Throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of our patients and team members have been our No. 1 priority,” Washington said.
That approach was felt most immediately on the front lines, with team members manning testing sites and emergency rooms across the health system. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, Novant Health’s corporate offices transitioned to virtual work for the remainder of 2020. Support and resources, from child care to short-term lodging and financial assistance to support groups, were made available to all Novant Health team members, so they can take care of themselves and their family during the pandemic.
“It is a great feeling to work for an organization you know will support you during tough times and an even better feeling to know the organization you work for prepared for times like these and can flip a switch to make these benefits available and this new way of working possible,” Washington said. “We didn’t skip a beat. Instead, we rallied together, adjusted our focus and became better, faster and stronger, which speaks to the dynamic leadership at Novant Health.”
At the same time, COVID-19 put some of Washington’s initiatives on hold. For one, she designed a new rounding program for the Novant Health board of trustees. The program was expected to debut earlier this year and allow the trustees to round at all Novant Health facilities as part of an effort to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening across all markets and to show appreciation for physicians, nurses and team members. When COVID-19 hit, it put the program on pause for the foreseeable future.
But Washington is embracing setbacks as opportunities to rethink the status quo and evolve.
“I’ve always embraced change, no matter the cause. I innately look for the opportunities that come with change, and this mindset has served me well. COVID-19 has presented opportunities to be innovative and creative. It has presented opportunities to stretch, build stronger bonds and be a better partner,” Washington said. “A crisis either makes you or breaks you, and I am proud to say I am part of a team of people who, when the going gets tough, they step up together.”
That team is comprised of other strong leaders in the Novant Health family who learn from and support each other.
“I’m lucky to report to a leader who has always given me creative freedom,” Washington said. “Kim creates an environment where big ideas are welcome. Neither one of us particularly cares for the status quo. Over the past 10 years, she’s always given me a runway to develop new programs, design new processes and oversee unique projects. I respect the partnership we’ve built, and I do not take it for granted.”
Washington chooses to remain optimistic about what the future holds and focus on ending the year with a bang. In addition to her daily operations, she’s been collaborating with Novant Health Medical Group leadership on a physician governance project that has made great progress and continues to gain momentum. She and her team are planning for a normal 2021, even though they may have to adjust. But in her words, “It’s better to be prepared than behind the ball.”
“The trusted advisors in my life – my parents being at the top – have encouraged me to go through life with a great attitude,” she said. “I get my work ethic from my dad, and I’ll never forget the day he told me, ‘Life is 5% what happens to you and 95% how you respond.’ Those are words I live by every day.”
In unprecedented times, we all need to do our part to step up.
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