Have you heard a lot about Saskatoon Health Region’s new cellular model? Here are the basics about what these cells are and why the Region is using them.

The cellular model surrounds managers with critical supports – a human resources business partner (HRBP), kaizen (quality improvement) specialist and senior scheduler – as close to the unit as possible, and part of the leadership team. These supports help the manager solve problems efficiently, and prevent errors from occurring. Pilots of this cellular model, developed based on best practice and other high-performing organizations, were held on six units at Royal University Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital a year ago.

“It’s really about the right person doing the right job so work is done as efficiently as possible.” said Mike Northcott, Director of Human Resources for Saskatoon Health Region. “We’re taking specialized, time-consuming tasks off the plates of managers so they can focus on what they do best – knowing and growing their people, understanding their business, and improving their processes. When managers can focus on their teams, frontline staff can better focus on quality care for patients, residents and clients.”

The cell model is at the core of the Patient First Management System, Saskatoon Health Region’s management model built to improve our care for patients and achieve operational excellence. This system includes elements that are required to enable managers to do what they do best, elements which include coaching and problem solving, teamwork, innovation and continuous improvement. Saskatoon Health Region’s Patient First Management System builds on the Lean-based Saskatchewan Health Care Management System.

Until the implementation of the cellular model, on average, 78 per cent of a manager’s day was not in their control. For instance, managers were spending 13 per cent of their time focused just on hiring. With an HRBP on their team, that time is reduced to three per cent, leaving them more time to work with their staff on the unit.

This cellular model is already freeing up time for managers and has resulted in reduced staff turnover, overtime, sick time, and orientation costs. It’s creating a better work environment all the way around, which results in happier staff, better care and reduced costs. Because of the positive results reported by managers, permanent roll-out of the model began in January 2016, and now the idea is being replicated on units throughout Saskatoon Health Region.

While supports within the cell model are currently centered around human resources, scheduling and quality improvement, other supports such as safety specialists, financial management advisors, educators and other areas will be added over time. Some of these supports will be shared by several managers. Eventually, all managers will be part of a cell.

Creating these cells will fundamentally change the structure of many departments, including Human Resources (HR).  Human Resources has changed its service delivery model from a centralized model which included specialists in various areas of human resources to a hybrid model that has both centralized and decentralized components.  The decentralized components include HRBPs and Senior Schedulers are located as closely as possible to the various units.  The centralized components are smaller than in the previous model and include HR Central and specialty teams such as Labour Relations and Workforce Planning and Employment.

“Our new model has allowed HR to get out on the front lines and really understand healthcare to a greater degree. It removes the geographic barriers between ourselves and our clients, creates a leadership team, and shifts us into a model where the right person is doing the right job.  This ultimately improves the care provided to the patients we are here to serve and does it in a way that creates more value for the tax dollar,” Northcott said.

For Crystal Horvath, manager of Non-Invasive Cardiology for the Region, the cell model has allowed her to grow and thrive in her new managerial position.

“I’m a brand new manager,” Horvath stated, explaining she was an Intensive Care Unit nurse previously. “I started as a manager in August of last year, and I hit the ground running. It was a learn-as-you-go kind of job, which I expected.”

Manager Crystal Horvath (centre) and her cell supports HRBP Kendra Babiuk (left), and Kaizen specialist Renalda Henderson.

Manager Crystal Horvath (centre) and her cell supports HRBP Kendra Babiuk (left), and Kaizen specialist Renalda Henderson.

However, just a few months in, Horvath felt she was burning out.

“The job was just very demanding and stressful. It was a huge learning curve for me, as I had never worked in a unit like this before.”

Then her unit adopted the cell model.

“The first time I was able to hand stuff off was great,” she remembered.  “I started learning more about my unit, because I had time to really stop and think about what I was doing. I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to keep going without the supports of the cell. Having those specialists there, especially as a brand new manager, was huge for me. I felt like I had so much more backing in my role.”

The cell model, Horvath said, has made her job easier, and improved her confidence as a manager, as well as her job satisfaction.

“I’m feeling really hopeful now,” she said. “This model has allowed me to have more time to speak with the staff on my unit, to know what they do and get to know them.”

“Essentially what the cell model will allow us to do is to accomplish improvements as a Region,” said Patti Simonar, director of Organizational Learning and Leadership with Saskatoon Health Region. “The establishment of these cells across the region is fundamental to us being able to do improvement work on things like patient flow and safety, as managers will have time to focus on what can be improved and how to improve it, instead of being distracted by work that is best done by specialists. This is really about building a better leadership model to help our organization make continuous improvements in care and services as part of our patient first management system.”

Implementation of the cells means many people will be moving from their current areas to areas closer to the managers they support.