Nov. 13, 2022 | CHH Foundation, St. Mary's Foundation
by Bradley Burck

The Auxiliary Growth Imperative

Actions Your Auxiliary Must Take this Year

To anyone familiar with modern health care, it’s no secret that hospitals face strains from multiple directions, such as finances, increasing government regulation, or trying to recover from the pandemic, whose impact continues.

Factor in pressures on staff and resources and rising expenses for supplies, drugs, and equipment and you have 2022. This year, the American Hospital Association predicts members will see billions in losses. It estimates margins will be down 37% this year compared to pre-pandemic levels, with more than half of all hospitals operating in the red.

In such a climate, individual hospitals are combining with others to create systems that can help them survive. Thus we have the industry’s continuing merger-and-acquisition activity, which hit a peak in the second quarter with a record high $19.2 billion in transactions. We see this across our state with Mountain Health Network, Vandalia Health, and WVU Medicine acquiring hospitals and practices everywhere we look.

The reality is that everyone in this room has seen these changes. We must acknowledge that change is happening all around us, whether in our hospitals, our state or our nation.

Change threatens the health of hospital auxiliaries. Current trends don’t look great for those who lead auxiliary groups. The pandemic and generational shifts have altered the way people volunteer and support organizations.

Auxiliaries must adapt. Our attitude toward change is important. It will determine our course for this year, next year, and the years to come.

For example, take the study that predicts that by 2040 health care as we know it will no longer exist. That’s because of a fundamental shift from “health care” to “health.” Instead of merely treating disease, science and technology will help us identify it earlier, intervene proactively, and understand its progression so doctors and patients can take preventive action.

While these kinds of changes may make us throw up our hands in surrender, they shouldn’t. There will always be a need for auxiliaries in a hospital and medical facility setting. But in order to stay relevant, we must become vibrant, valuable, and ready for the future. We must meet the challenge or change or the reality is that the auxiliary you know and love my not be around in the future.

Here are five things a hospital auxiliary can do immediately to adapt and achieve in this sometimes bewildering climate.

1. Grow or die.

As a general rule, auxiliaries are not growing their membership. I have a saying when it comes to groups. It goes like this: “If you’re not growing, you are dying.” Most leaders never see the death of their organization coming because the problem of membership attrition is often overshadowed in the short term by successful financial numbers from fundraisers or earned income, like that from gift shops. This is because a smaller number of committed members are working harder to meet or exceed previous years’ financial goals. At a certain point this model breaks down; attrition in the ranks caused by death, sickness, or disenchantment with the organization leads to an unstoppable downward spiral. Don’t let that happen to your auxiliary!

When it comes to member numbers, you must be asking yourself these hard questions:

• How many active members do we have? Are we growing those numbers?
• In the last few years, how many people have we lost to death, sickness, inability to volunteer/work, or just checking out? Have we replaced those people with new people?
• What would happen if we lost a few committed members?
• Are we growing the base—and future leaders?

If you find yourself in a situation where you recognize that your auxiliary is shrinking both in size and ability, it is not too late to act. Work on your recruiting message. Remove obstacles to becoming active in your auxiliary, be that dues, requiring so many years of service before holding office, or other long-standing regulations. None of those things are bad – but in the world we live in today, ask yourself: have those things become barriers for the people who might be the future of your organization? Action is needed here. This issue needs to become a major part of every Board meeting you have in the future.

2. Promote system-ness.

In addition to decreasing membership, another reality auxiliaries must grapple with is successfully adjusting to the aftermath of a merger. As I mentioned earlier, these combinations are part of hospitals’ push for survival. Yet there is often resistance to the change that accompanies consolidations.
Three years after my hospital merged with another and became part of a larger healthcare system, I was still hearing comments like, “We’ve always done things this way” or “Why do we have to do it the way they do?”

I understand these kinds of objections. Yet opposing the new system, in whatever form that takes, doesn’t make your auxiliary better or stronger or ready for the future. It only discourages the people involved.

3. Lead change.

Since mergers or various restructurings are a fact of life, your auxiliary needs to be on the leading edge of embracing a new system. Take ownership of the approach. Indeed, champion it. Auxiliaries are uniquely positioned to be the first department in a hospital to embrace change and help promote a new culture. What does this mean for you? You have a unique opportunity to help people on your board and in your organization begin to think, speak, and act as one. While you still represent your hospital auxiliary, you have a new responsibility to help bring about unity across your system.

4. Create a culture of positivity.

This is a corollary to number 3. Leading change won’t happen just because you promote it in one or two meetings. Adopting change needs to be a focal point of everything you do going forward. Think of ways to encourage and remind your board and volunteers to look at change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Turn change from a negative to a positive by making it a priority in the way you talk, what you wear, what you do, and how you embrace the future.

5. Use your Director of Volunteer Services to help you achieve your goals.

The DVS is your voice into the hospital and the system. Ask them to help you better understand the climate of the organization, why things are happening, advise you on growth, and help you get things done.

The rewards are there for those Auxiliaries who make the effort to embrace change and focus on growth. The way forward won’t be easy. But the path is one we must all walk to make sure we leave our auxiliaries and hospitals better than we found them.

This article was taken from a presentation given by Bradley Burck at the Auxiliary of West Virginia Hospital Association state conference at the Greenbrier in November of 2022. Download and listen to the speech The Auxiliary Growth Imperative today.