Hattie Mae was an extraordinary woman. In a family decimated by the death of a father prior to the start of the Great Depression, she emerged as a leader for her six siblings. Her mother, Cora, ruled the family but it was Hattie Mae who set the example of hard work and duty for her brothers and sisters.

Hattie Mae was Hattie Mae Jackson of Terrell, Texas. For nearly 50 years she worked in the business office of Southwestern Bell’s Terrell office where she rose to the rank of manager. Her duty and devotion resulted in an ample retirement package so she never had to worry about her financial security even though she lived a very long life. She died at the age of 98. Her longevity with Southwestern Bell not only provided for her retirement but there was some left over for her multitude of grandkids. Thank you Mae.

Hattie Mae’s career is not something that can be replicated in our “new normal” economy. Lifetime employment with one company is all but over. Her devotion, her commitment to the company that provided her and her siblings so much financial security in some very tough times was matched by their loyalty to her. That was the sacred contract companies made with their employees back then. But those days are, sadly, over.

What happened?

Companies today treat their employees as a fungible commodity, not an asset, but a commodity. There are many reasons, and most focus on the almighty dollar. Investors have no commitment to anything but the return on their investment. We see it in the offshoring of jobs. We see it in healthcare with the dangerous focus on growth in income and the ruthless emphasis on reducing expenses. That trend has infiltrated the not-for-profit hospital segment, driven by Wall Street’s standards for selling bonds to finance modernization and growth. Access to capital and scale seem to be the most important issues today.

When I entered the healthcare industry at Hermann Hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, there were numerous long-term employees, some 30, 40 and 50 year veterans. In the future, those loyal, devoted employees, the keepers of values and the important culture of the place, who stayed around through think and thin, will be an anomaly. We are playing by new standards today and some of the consequences are dangerous. Despite exponential advances in technology and diagnostic capabilities we have not done a better job caring for our patients or our employees. Employee engagement is at a record low and preventable patient deaths are at a record high.

For those of us who were around during those days when employees with institutional knowledge were valued, this change is unsettling. Today, too many CEOs focus solely on operational performance and see their employees only as a means to achieve an end. The turnover in these organizations serves to raise costs and compromise the quality of care and patient safety. If you do not believe me, just invest some time and look at the metrics of those organizations with a high employee turnover rate and those that value their human capital. The latter typically are safer places to obtain care. If only they were the majority of hospitals in America.

Hattie Mae, you are missed. I understand that times have changed but I wish we could retain some of the values that rewarded your commitment and devotion to duty, for your personal sacrifices in exchange for doing the right thing for your siblings and your community.