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Johns Hopkins All Children's president puts hospital's mission in focus

K. Alicia Schulhof, president of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital St. Petersburg since July 2021, likes to start staff meetings with a “mission moment” — a story that demonstrates “the impact our team members have each and every day on the patients we care for.”

One of her favorite stories from her first year involved a 7-year-old girl named Maya, who stayed at the hospital more than 200 days waiting for a heart transplant. During that time, the girl grew close to Carli Fischer, her certified child life specialist, who one day learned that Maya’s favorite color was “rainbow.” That information came in handy later when a heart finally became available for Maya and, as she was being prepped for surgery, Maya asked Fischer to describe the new heart she’d be getting.

“Her child-life therapist knew her so well that she said to little Maya, ‘Maya, it’s a rainbow heart,’” Schulhof says. “And the staff didn’t stop there. Everyone participated in Maya’s rainbow heart story. They gave her a stuffed unicorn with a rainbow heart on it. They drew pictures of unicorns and rainbows on the glass window in her room.”

That, says Schulhof, is the sort of “mission moment” that gets her “excited to come to work.”

Her first year at All Children's — she was previously president of the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis — required her to deal with a range of pandemic-related issues.

“Health care and all industries, we’ve all had staffing challenges across the country due to the rise of COVID,” she says. “We recognize that our team members have had high levels of stress and burn-out caused by the pandemic, and that has taken a really unique toll on our health care workers, especially here in Florida. So, we’ve had to think about how we offer different well-being opportunities and think about recruitment and retention differently.”

She says the hospital has also implemented a series of processes focused on “quality and safety outcomes.” The standards were developed after 2018, when the hospital’s pediatric heart surgery unit’s mortality rate reached the highest in the state. In a turnaround, the American College of Surgeons designated All Children’s a level 1 children’s surgery center in 2022, a designation earned by fewer than 50 other hospitals in the U.S. Also, in 2021, the Washington, D.C.-based Leapfrog Group ranked All Children’s among the top children's hospitals in the state for patient safety and quality. In the latest U.S. News & World Report survey of children’s hospitals, Johns Hopkins All Children's ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 11 in the Southeast (rankings, page 20).

The hospital, she says, “learned and grew from past experiences and used those lessons to be better every day. We’ve incorporated several layers of rigor and review throughout our organization and applied the most comprehensive of processes and techniques to ensure that we’re delivering the very best outcomes for our kids. Our outcomes are telling the story.”

As for Maya, she got her new heart and was eventually discharged.

“There’s this great video,” Schulhof says. “She's running through the hallway with her new heart; she's saying goodbye, and the whole team is cheering her on. That's the gift we are able to give our patients is cheering them on through some of life’s most difficult of circumstances.”