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Connecting with a community after initial missteps | My Favorite Mistake


In this new feature, Katie Galbraith of Lankenau Medical Center talks about the value of listening to community feedback, even if it is disappointing, and how that’s helped her as a leader.

During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals across the country scrambled to treat patients, set up testing programs and distribute vaccines when they were available.

Katie Galbraith, president of Lankenau Medical Center (Photo: Main Line Health)

Katie Galbraith, president of Lankenau Medical Center (Photo: Main Line Health)

Katie Galbraith, president of Lankenau Medical Center in the Philadelphia area, recalls learning some important lessons in setting up vaccine clinics. At the time, Galbraith was serving as the president of Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.

In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Galbraith recalls some early missteps.

“I think we were moving as quickly as we could to do what we needed to do to try to set up whether it was testing sites initially, or vaccination sites, and really just going sort of 100 miles a minute to get those set up without really giving thought to where they needed to go and strategically sitting down and talking to our community, and listening to the community about what was needed,” she says.

Despite the dedicated, well-intentioned efforts, Galbraith says they heard from the community that they hadn’t always made the best choices in locations to reach under-served groups. Some vaccination sites "didn't necessarily meet the immediate needs of the community at large," she says.

“I was in some really difficult conversations with community members, community leaders, community residents, who said, ‘Look, this isn't working for us. This isn't where we need these vaccination sites. This isn't going to get to the equity that you all say you want in terms of distribution of the vaccine,’” Galbraith says.

“Those were not easy conversations to have,” she continues. “We were working so hard. And it was so emotional at the time, because of the work that was going on, that criticism was really tough to hear. And yet it was exactly what we needed to hear.”

(See part of our conversation with Katie Galbraith in this video. The story continues below.)

Eventually, with guidance from community members, Duke revamped its vaccine distribution and set up clinics that were more accessible. Galbraith says Duke looked at zip codes that were most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and partnered with the city and county to set vaccine locations.

Galbraith says Duke benefited from the broad input from community members and “being guided by them, as opposed to being guided by us.”

“I think the lesson that I've learned from that, that I thought I knew before the pandemic, but I really didn't understand in this way, is just how important it is to lean in and listen to our community,” Galbraith says. “I think in health care traditionally. We tend to think we're almost parental. We tend to think we know best, we know what's best for the community, we know how to improve the health of the community we serve.”

While Duke revised its strategy of getting COVID-19 vaccines and ultimately strengthened ties to the community, Galbraith recalls the disappointment her team experienced with the initial local feedback.

“They were exhausted, and they were taking it very personally,” Galbraith says.

She recalls explaining “this isn't personal, even though it feels personal to us, because it felt very much like, in some respects, sort of a personal attack … and that wasn't the way it was intended.”

“Everyone was trying to do the right thing,” she adds. “But as a leader, it was also helping my team navigate that as well. And saying, ‘Yeah, I know, this feels like criticism, I know, we're doing the best we can. But let's really listen to this.’”

Galbraith says she’s taken these lessons since becoming president of Lankenau Medical Center, a part of Main Line Health, in September 2022. She’s striving to build more connections with the Philadelphia region.

“Certainly, one of my goals has been to get out and really meet people in the community and learn from the community,” Galbraith says. “And I've done some of that, there's still a lot more that I want to do.”

She says she’s still learning about the community. But she says she’s been impressed by Main Line Health’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. She hails the “incredible” team members and the medical center’s clinical care, graduate medical education and research.

Galbraith also says she’s struck by the deep connection of people in the community to Lankenau Medical Center. She regularly encounters residents who were born at the medical center, or whose children and grandchildren were delivered at the hospital.

“I think what surprised me the most that I just was not anticipating is how many people are connected to this hospital,” she says, adding, “It's very generational. And there's something really special about that.”

This is the first installment of ‘My Favorite Mistake,’ a regular feature from Chief Healthcare Executive. If you’d like to share some missteps or setbacks and how they led to success, email Ron Southwick, senior editor: [email protected].

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