No one should be lost

A hospital taught its employees to help any visitors who could not find their way. By doing that, the hospital modeled its key values of compassion, excellence, integrity and innovation.

At North Carolina Baptist Hospital’s mandatory new employee orientation in 1992, we were given a simple instruction, “No one should be lost in this hospital.” A primary obligation for every employee was to help anyone who could not find the way. If helping a patient or visitor required being late for a meeting, so be it.

This instruction came in the context of explaining the hospital’s key values of compassion, excellence, integrity and innovation. These values were printed on cards hooked to our employee identification badges. Every new housekeeper, physician, accountant, food server, chaplain and clerk received the same two days of orientation. It struck me as brilliant that all of us were given a simple, single instruction that if embodied would shape us towards the stated values: Help every person who is lost.

Prior to joining the hospital staff, I had been a student in its clinical pastoral education program during seminary and had visited many of my church members. During those 10 years, I noticed that employees were friendly and quick to give directions. I had witnessed all the key values embodied by countless employees. Yet, I never stopped to think about what specific practices nurtured this culture.

In my daily routine as a new employee, I moved through seven different buildings built over a 60-year period. I noticed that every person who stood staring at a sign was interrupted by an employee. If I was more than 30 feet from the “lost” person, I was never the first employee on the scene. It did seem as though everyone stopped to give directions.

I wanted to help, but was often lost myself. I asked a colleague what she did when she did not know how to get to the inquirer’s destination. “Get lost with the person,” she replied. “Walk with the inquirer until you can find someone who can help them.”

The greatest test of my direction-giving came when I encountered a blind person and her service dog in a small lobby. She was standing alone and crying out, “Can you help me?” After some effort that included calling the hospital operator, we determined that she needed to be at an office building the hospital owned about three miles away.

She had gotten off the bus at the wrong location. The hospital had a van service to transport visitors between our properties, and the pick-up site was on the other side of the complex through a maze of four buildings. In offering to escort her to the van, I asked how to best guide her, expecting her to hold my arm.

Instead, she told me to talk to her service dog and she would instruct the animal to follow my voice. I am something of an awkward introvert who is uncomfortable at an unstructured social hour. My assignment was to deliver a 10-minute monologue to a dog while walking through the crowded medical center.

By inviting every one of its 5,000 employees to pay attention to patients and visitors, to offer directions or companionship to one of the thousands of people who wandered the hospital halls every day, the hospital was teaching the basic activities that developed compassion, excellence, innovation and integrity.

What actions could you encourage colleagues to take each day that would develop and reinforce the key values of your congregation or organization?