Putting Families First
Story by Ann E. Butenas
From patients and their families to employees and their families, MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital offers a unique personalized care plan that takes everyone into full consideration.
After she earned her college degree as a recreational therapist, Tiffany Kiehl had grand ambitions. Making a significant and positive impact in the lives of others was at top of mind for her. When she was hired on at MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital 19 years ago, Kiehl knew she had found a home and a family in more ways than one.
Kiehl first joined the MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital (MARH) team in 2003 as the Director of Marketing leading marketing, admissions, transportation, and case management departments. She then pursued and completed a Master’s in Health Care Administration and was subsequently promoted to Director of Quality and Risk Management in 2013. Three years later, her tenacity, skillsets, and obvious passion for the job opened the door for her to become CEO of MidAmerica Rehab Hospital. This year, Kiehl was further promoted to become an Area CEO.
What is fascinating about Kiehl is that, even though she has advanced deservedly through the ranks, her feet have always remained on the ground. Her heart of compassion for patients and their overall care never wavers. It is as if she was born to do this kind of work.
“There are so many opportunities in health care,” she reflected. “I was fortunate in that I found my passion early on and from there found new ways to move forward.”
Kiehl’s first brush with the healthcare industry was when she was in high school. Growing up in Moberly, Missouri, she took her first job at a local hospital working in admissions and registration.
“I worked the second shift, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on weekends and holidays,” she recalled. “This was my introduction to health care.”
Kiehl knew even then she wanted to remain in this industry, but she did not know in what capacity. She stayed focused, however, until her passion forged the appropriate path for her to follow.
“In college, I did the billing in a doctor’s office at the front desk, so I continued to have my hand in health care,” said Kiehl, who did once consider becoming a malpractice attorney, but dismissed that idea the further she traveled down the health care field path.
“I did enjoy the legal aspect of the quality and risk management role I had,” she noted. “It gave me the opportunity to identify opportunities for improvement and overcome challenges.”
Now, her focus is on educating people on the services MidAmerica has to offer, as well as supporting clinical teams, support staff and physicians so they are able to help patients return home and have a better quality of life.
Mother Teresa, nun and missionary, said it best. “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
For years, Kiehl dove deep into her work, often taking it home. After all, ensuring patients had the best in care and services was – and is – a top priority. It wasn’t until a serious health care issue surfaced in her own family, however, that made her re-think her priorities.
On December 13, 2013, Kiehl’s then nine-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her daughter is doing well now, but that unexpected life circumstance made Kiehl rethink her approach to life and work.
“Before all that happened, I was working around the clock, which was not the right thing for my family,” she indicated. “Life changes in the blink of an eye, and it really makes you stop and think about what is important.”
Additionally, Kiehl’s experience working with brain injury patients better equipped her for the challenging road she had with her daughter, who is now 18.
“I have worked with brain injury patients for the majority of my adult life,” Kiehl said. “As a result, it helped me become a better advocate for my daughter and explore all the options out there. I had to learn how to work as well as be present for her.”
Her daughter’s illness was the necessary epiphany Kiehl needed.
“We could have lost my daughter, so I knew I had to figure this out,” she paused.
Subsequently, Kiehl’s situation with her own family translated into her natural leadership style at MidAmerica Rehab Hospital.
“I have tried to become a leader who encourages that family comes first,” she stated. “At MidAmerica Rehab Hospital, your position is valued, and you are valued. You come first. When employees see me working long hours, I do not expect them to do the same. I want my team to know I support them and the things they also need to do for their families.”
Now that Kiehl has a firm grasp on the proverbial work-life balance, a typical day can be anything but typical. On a daily basis, she makes sure she connects with those with whom she works.
“I want to determine how we can work together so things go smoothly for our patients,” she expressed. “I want to figure out how we create an inclusive environment, so all of our employees feel welcome and heard.”
In addition to establishing those deep connections, Kiehl also attends meetings, rounds the units, and frequents town hall sessions, among many other duties.
“Health care is hard work, both physically and emotionally” she noted. “It’s part of my job to help employees refill their emotional buckets daily.”
To that end, MidAmerica has established the Employee Connection Team, a group of front-line employees that help develop employee appreciation activities throughout the month. This is one avenue by which she shows her appreciation for them and the work they do.
“It’s a time to get together and have fun, to do a brain break,” she smiled. “We try to do at least one fun event each week for day and night shift.”
Because of the strong relationships the team members at MidAmerica Rehab Hospital create, employee retention is quite remarkable.
“We have one employee who has been here for the entire 33 years MidAmerica Rehab Hospital has been around,” marveled Kiehl. Many more have similar longevity on their resumes.
“Each month, we host a catered anniversary meal and gather to talk about the employees,” said Kiehl. “They get to share stories of MidAmerica Rehab Hospital and how it has changed over the years.”
This feeling of connectedness, of creating something truly special and meaningful, then naturally pours over into patient care.
“It uplifts those we care for, and the patients feel that,” emphasized Kiehl. “In fact, one patient told me about the great care she received while here, but it was the little things that really left a big impression on her. For example, an employee would bring her a Coke every day or just have it ready for her after therapy. They also talked about family a lot, sharing family stories, and just getting to know each other. It’s those little things that make a huge difference in the lives of our patients and in the lives of our employees.”
Kiehl involves her team in a myriad of ways to help them feel included at all levels. Over the past couple of years, MidAmerica Rehab Hospital has been working on various renovations within. Light and bright colors now take the lead, which helps create a better recovery environment for the patients, as well as a bright, open work environment.
“Just the color of a wall can change a patient’s feelings,” emphasized Kiehl, who indicated the staff has been highly instrumental in these changes, such as selecting proper flooring for patients with visual and/or neurological issues.
“It is very helpful to have the staff give input into the design,” she said.
For Kiehl, health care is more than just rehabilitating a person. It’s about taking care of the whole being. Kiehl is proud of the company for whom she works. As part of Encompass Health, MidAmerica Rehab Hospital is one of 150+ in-patient rehabilitation hospitals across the country. Unique to MidAmerica Rehab Hospital is that it is a joint venture with AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.
“We connect from a local perspective and have the expertise of the largest provider of in-patient rehabilitation services in the country,” she expressed. “And when I think about Encompass, one of the biggest things we focus on is to value our employees. We do an annual employee engagement survey, which is a tool we embrace to ensure all of them are heard and have a voice. They truly make a difference, and we appreciate having them help lead change.”