James Hodge battled significant turnover and wellness challenges at Redstone Presbyterian SeniorCare and ended up with a whole new culture.
By Kristen B. Frasch
When James Hodge first came to Redstone Presbyterian SeniorCare -- better known in its Greensburg, Pa., location and surroundings as Redstone Highlands -- he thought his assignment would be simple and straightforward.
With more than 20 years of experience in HR at the time -- 1997 -- and an expert in establishing HR functions at mostly medical facilities and organizations, he thought he'd be leaving once his mission -- to create the function there -- was complete.
But then he realized what a juggernaut Redstone's culture was and how much it needed him to turn it around.
"People just weren't very nice," says Hodge, Redstone's vice president of human resources. "They couldn't treat one another with respect," a key reason the not-for-profit senior living and continuing-care organization with 475 employees was experiencing at least 75 percent turnover, costing about $500,000 a year.
Worse still, in his early going there, "people didn't trust HR; they thought I was coming in to make huge changes in their lives," says Hodge, a Punxsutawney, Pa.-born and bred country boy at heart, husband of 42 years to wife Linda, father of three and grandfather of three. So it was slow-going at first.
Then, in 2001, "life at Redstone significantly changed" when John R. Dickson arrived as the new president and chief executive officer, says Hodge. Even interviewing for the job with Redstone's senior leaders, including Hodge, Dickson made it clear he valued HR. "I remember he looked right at me and said what he thought we needed was a vice president of HR," Hodge recalls. Later, as the CEO, Dickson invited Hodge and his wife to dinner.
"He handed me a small rectangular gift," says Hodge. "I thanked him and started putting it aside and he said, 'No, I think you should open that right now.' It was a box of my new business cards as VP of HR, should I accept. I accepted," he adds with a chuckle. "And I'm still here."
With Dickson's support, Hodge developed in 2002, and still maintains, Redstone's Employee Retention Corporate goal, which sets a goal with every supervisor -- tied to incentive payouts and performance reviews -- to do his or her part to reduce turnover. He created a confidential employee-feedback survey to gather opinions about the company's senior leaders and supervisors. He helped develop Redstone's "core values" -- truth, teamwork, respect for all, quality (where each staff member strives to do the right thing, and everyone feels personal responsibility for company success), life balance and lifelong learning (where talent development and education are encouraged and supported).
He and his team crafted the company's "zero-tolerance behaviors," many of which, he says, "were taken verbatim from the feedback surveys" and all of which underscore what needed changing in the Redstone culture Hodge found: back-stabbing, gossiping, disrespectful language and tone, lack of inclusiveness and teamwork, the list goes on.
Today, everyone at Redstone, including every new employee, is given a card with these values and behaviors spelled out, and understands -- through emails, meetings, workshops, supervisor coaching, etc. -- what they mean and why they are needed. Since this effort began, surveys have shown steady improvement and turnover now sits at just over 24 percent. With some help from Bridgeport, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International and Penn State University, Hodge created a behavioral-based interview program and evaluation process to address performance that does not meet each position's standards and negatively impacts the Redstone culture.
In their joint letter of recommendation, Dickson and Board Chairman James P. Gallagher laud Hodge's "aggressive stand to reduce employee turnover at its initial root cause ... ."
By the same token, says Hodge, "I wouldn't be talking to you right now [as a 2013 HR Honor Roll recipient] if it weren't for John Dickson" and top management. "The relationship between a chief human resource officer and his or her CEO is absolutely crucial."
That relationship put Hodge in good stead when, also in 2002, he set out to remake Redstone's wellness program to address a skyrocketing 44-percent premium increase and a culture in which new employees were "shopping us for our health plan" that required no deductibles the first year, "and then leaving us," also contributing to the high turnover, he says.
New health plans were implemented; a Healthy Tracks Rewards Program was established, awarding employees, spouses and families points toward health-related purchases and services for milestones reached; and a strategic partnership was formed with Redstone's insurance carrier, Highmark, to keep educational and plan processes coordinated. More recently, in 2011, a tobacco-incentive program was implemented to award cheaper premiums to non-smoking plan participants and assign additional charges for smokers.
With Hodge at the helm through all this, renewal costs for health benefits were actually reduced at a time when most companies were seeing increases.
What's more, Redstone has been recognized by the American Heart Association, the Pittsburgh Business Times and numerous other media and health organizations as a model for other companies straddling rising health costs and trying to make wellness work.
As Hodge puts it, "we went from having a few [wellness] speakers in every quarter, then wondering why our wellness program wasn't working, to becoming a culture of wellness."