HHC Profiles

Photo by Jeff Evans

The Soul of Rushford: Tim Washington

By John Tejada

If you ask Tim Washington how he got to Rushford, he’ll tell you it was on a whim.

“I started out working in a group home affiliated with Rushford, taking care of kids. A gentleman said I should try Rushford,” said the recovery support specialist (RSS). “He said, ‘You would be good at it because you are real good with the kids.’ So I filled out an application, and, after the interview, they said ‘Mr. Washington, we would like to accept you to do transportation.’ This was 16 years ago.”

Washington stayed in transportation or two years before moving to a position helping clients find jobs, look for apartments and manage their lives. He eventually was promoted to manager of transportation before he finally found his true calling, homeless outreach.

“I was in the woods, in abandoned buildings, the back of buildings, all over the place looking for clients. Most of the time, I was making sure clients had a place to sleep,” he said

He flourished, making a name for himself in the community and organization.

“Tim does whatever he can to keep Rushford going in the right direction through individual connections with staff and patients,” says Patricia Rehmer, the senior vice president of the Behavioral Health Network.

For Washington, making connections with patients is easy. In recovery, he’s used to being on the other side. After abusing alcohol inthe early 80s, he graduated to cocaine and eventually a crack addiction.

“I stole, I climbed through windows of homes t o get high, I lied to my kids. I stole my son’s video games, stealing one game seven times and buying it back every payday.

I went to work every single day. Had to make sure I paid for my habit. That’s what addicts do,” he said.

The initial trip to rehab didn’t work. After 28 days, Washington returned to the streets and got high that very night. A second stint didn’t yield much better results.

“When I went into rehab for the third time, I weighed 140 pounds,” he remembered. “I had to learn. I gained 65 pounds when I got out. Me and my wife got a place with our kids, and that was it. I wasn’t playing that game no more. I started going to meetings, telling on myself when I felt that way. I started doing what I needed to do to get myself from that stinking thinking.”

Washington has been sober 30 years, and shares his story to help clients in recovery. It’s a tool Rehmer called invaluable.

“We have proven the outcomes are better when we have people with lived experience involved in care. What is more powerful than having someone with lived experience say, ‘Yeah, I actually have been there, let me tell you what it’s like, what it’s not like. Look where I am now – I am working,’” she said.

“He is the epitome of the soul of Rushford — you come in, it doesn’t matter who you are, we accept you whether you have substance use disorder or serious psychiatric disorder, and we will meet you where you’re at.”

For Rushford clients, Washington is a symbol of hope that things can get better and lives can change. Clients give him the same hope in return.

“The clients are the most important thing here at Rushford. They teach me to stay sober, teach me that there is life on the outside,” he said. “So I don’t stop. I continue to reach out. It keeps me fresh every day, talking to people, reaching out, saying what I have to say. That helps me stay sober. That’s why I’m still here.”

Meet Mandy Richards, HHC’s first Chief Nursing Officer

By Hilary Waldman

Throughout her personal and professional pursuits, Amanda “Mandy” Richards is driven by one question: “How do I make a difference in people’s lives?”

She brought the question to the bedside when she started as a critical care nurse in her native Australia.

She packs it when she travels to Russia, where she and her husband help forgotten children in orphanages.

She thinks about it daily as she settles into her new role as Hartford HealthCare’s first chief nursing officer.

Mother of two teenagers, Richards was chief nursing officer at Allina Health, a not-for- profit system with 12 hospitals in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, when she received a message from a recruiter. Hartford HealthCare was looking for its first system-wide executive vice president and chief nursing officer.

She experienced the growing pains of creating a coordinated healthcare system from a collection of autonomous entities, and it was not the first time she would jump off the cliff for an opportunity, willing to confront uncertainty.

Richards joined Allina 15 years earlier after she, her husband, Anthony, and their then-2-year- old daughter, Emma, left Australia. After retaking certification exams, she was hired as a critical care clinical nurse specialist at an Allina hospital. Within months, she was elevated to manager.

“I’ve always been willing to step into new roles that initially make you uncomfortable, in order to continue to learn and grow,’’ Richards said. She was drawn to HHC by our commitment to innovation and the challenge of elevating the importance of nurses in our organization.

Among parallels between Allina and HHC, she said, is a culture of continuous improvement, which we call Lean.

She recalled an Allina hospitals grappling with a backlog of psychiatric patients in its Emergency Department (ED). To address the problem, psychiatrists, ED physicians, directors, nurses and others participated in a process improvement meeting similar to our Kaizen. They developed a solution, which spread organically to other hospitals as leaders involved in the process adopted the standard work, creating a more uniform patient experience.

Richards said that’s how she envisions spreading best practices across HHC.

“You’re trying to create a best practice to improve the quality of care we provide to patients, so why should it be different at Hartford Hospital than it is at HOCC?’’ she asked.

When not thinking about improving patient outcomes, Richards enjoys traveling with her family, which includes 13-year-old George. Her husband, a corporate executive, traded his suit for a clerical collar in Minnesota as an ordained Christian minister. Much of their travel involves mission work, including running summer camps where Russian orphans learn life skills and that someone cares about them.

Richard also continues to challenge herself to make a difference.

“I want to make sure in my lifetime I make the biggest impact I can on not only patients, but on the nursing profession,” she said.