The staff at Cancer Treatment Centers of America knows the perception those not familiar with its hospitals might have: that places that focus on such insidious, life-altering diseases must feel melancholy, even hopeless.
Not so, say employees.
The words they frequently use to describe their workplace culture: supportive, collaborative and, above all, happy.
Theresa Rodriguez is a nurse at the infusion center, which administers things like chemotherapy and pain medication at the five-floor Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion. "That spirit of teamwork, when you're working together as a cohesive unit for the benefit of the common goal?" she said. "It makes you happier, and it bounces off to the patients. Happy nurses give good care."
That upbeat atmosphere extends not only to patient health but to the physical and mental wellness of its employees, who are known as "stakeholders," and is a reason why Cancer Treatment Centers of America has landed at No. 8 among large companies on the Tribune's Top Workplaces list, as surveyed by WorkplaceDynamics, an Exton, Pa.-based consultancy.
Stephen Bonner, the president and CEO, said creating an optimistic environment remains a priority because "what we know is that unhappy people are unable to provide happy experiences, and happy people can provide very unique experiences."
A positive, healthy staff is able to project availability and attentiveness to patients, he said, and if that does not affect their healing, it can affect their outlook and the quality of their care.
Once known as the American International Hospital, the Zion location of what became Cancer Treatment Centers in 1988 marked the first in a growing number of for-profit cancer treatment centers. In addition to the roughly 1,000 employees in Zion, the company has four other hospitals nationwide, an outpatient center in Seattle and a corporate office in Schaumburg, for a total of about 3,800 staff members across the country.
In a nod to the mother of its founder, Richard Stephenson, whose investment company bought the Zion building in 1975 and who began Cancer Treatment Centers following the death of his mother from cancer, the hospital's employees abide by what they call the Mother Standard of care.
"You treat every patient as if they're a member of your own family, and that's hugely empowering, not only for the patients but for the staff," said Anne Meisner, a former intensive care unit nurse who is now the president and CEO of the company's Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
Meisner and management are acutely aware that people who have careers focused on serving others can neglect their own health, and they have spent the last couple of years aggressively focused on wellness initiatives for the staff.
In one such effort, the company wanted to screen prospective staff for tobacco as a condition of employment. But a law allowing that was vetoed in August by Gov. Pat Quinn after having passed the General Assembly.
"What I don't want is the tobacco thing to become the issue, or sort of polarizing for our organization," Meisner said. "It's one of many things that we're paying attention to as we kind of go down this wellness path. And we're big believers in talking to patients about not just what they can do for themselves medically but what they can do for themselves to live healthier lives. … And we think that it's duplicitous to give that message and not do the same thing on our own."
She added, "I'm committed to this, and one of my plans is to actually reach out to the governor's office and see if I can understand kind of the thinking behind what happened."
Stephen Laser, founder of Stephen A. Laser Associates, an employment advisory firm in the Loop, said that as "a health care organization, since they are promoting good health ... I think they're well within their bounds." He added, however, that organizations have to be careful not to tread too far into privacy issues.
Other wellness initiatives include biometric screening to measure things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels and a comprehensive health assessment, which entails a detailed questionnaire. Staff members are awarded $250 toward their health savings accounts upon completing each.
Each year, the Department of Mind-Body Medicine hosts a week at work for the staff that focuses on an aspect of mind-body health, like Reiki, a Japanese technique for relaxation, and HeartMath, which helps with stress management. A therapist is always on call for patients and staff, and in the event a patient dies, Cancer Treatment Centers will organize a group memorial and make it possible for grieving staff to go to patients' funerals.
"The wellness initiatives have completely set this hospital apart from anywhere that I've been before," said Mind-Body therapist Corliss Quinn, sitting in the main dining room, where healthy lunch options include chicken breast, broccoli and whole wheat linguine. "… A lot of the focus is always driven toward the patients, but you need to have able-bodied and well caregivers to be able to support the patients in a way that we advertise and that we want to."