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HR 101 in Behavioral Health

In this episode,HR Director Cherie Peltz and HR Manager Molly Lounsberry lead an interactive dsicussion focusing on on their roles when it comes to treating behavioral health.
Molly Lounsberry, SHRM-CP | Cherie Peltz, MPA, PHR

Cherie Peltz is a Human Resources Professional from Michigan. Cherie has a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Central Michigan University (Fire Up Chips!), a Master’s of Public Administration, and her PHR Certificate. Cherie started out in the healthcare field as a Mental Health Technician and later worked as an Administrator of a group home where she began to enjoy recruiting, training new employees, and process improvement. Cherie started her HR career as a HR Specialist & Benefits Coordinator working for a Community Mental Health Organization in Michigan. Cherie moved from Michigan to Arizona with her family which includes her husband and her two boys. She and her husband are very involved in their community, and their son’s sporting activities. Cherie enjoys scrapbooking, hiking, taking her dog for walks, and traveling to Michigan to visit family.

Scott Webb: Working in human resources presents unique challenges and rewards. The common denominators for most HR professionals is that they are people people who enjoy working with and for the employees at places like Sierra Tucson. And I'm joined today by Cherie Peltz, she's the HR Director for Sierra Tucson; and Molly Lounsberry, she's an HR manager also with Sierra Tucson.

Host: This is Let's Talk: Mind, Body, Spirit by Sierra Tucson. Sierra Tucson, a leader in the field of behavioral healthcare since 1983. I'm Scott Webb.

So, I want to thank you both for joining me today. We're going to kind of do an HR 101 in behavioral health. So Cherie, I'll start with you. What's your role at Sierra Tucson and how does the work you do sort of marry up or match up with the work that Molly does?

Cherie Peltz: Sure. Thank you for having us. I am the Human Resource Director at Sierra Tucson and I oversee the entire HR department. I directly manage Molly and our training coordinator, Ashley. And my role is focusing a lot on the strategic initiatives and items that come down from corporate that can help with employee engagement, employee retention and recruitment.

Host: Yeah. And Molly, when you think about your role, obviously you sort of work for Cherie and she's sort of in between, right? So, she's working with corporate, she's working with you, you're working with employees. But maybe just talk about yourself a little bit and your role and how you guys work together.

Molly Lounsberry: Well, I manage a team of about three HR professionals. We make sure that Sierra Tucson stays compliant for sure. We also provide excellent customer service in the areas of benefits and leave of absence and FMLA. We also process payroll and recruit for Sierra Tucson, but also Sierra Scottsdale and Sierra South Lake. We hope that we are the experts and make ourselves available to all. We give employees knowledge, hopefully, and if not satisfaction, we want them to be able to fish as well as come to us.

Host: Yeah, I see what you mean. And maybe just stay with you, Molly. Let's talk a little bit about skills and qualifications for anybody who wants to work in HR? Maybe talk about your background and what folks need if they want to do what you do.

Guest 2: Well, first of all, you need a big heart. If you have a heart, you can be taught human resources. Second, I would say that a willingness to listen is something very instrumental. You also need to be able to stand up for what's right and just. And also, it's kind of fun, you get to be a detective a lot of the times and a problem solver.

Guest 1: Yeah, that's true. That's very true. And to add to that, I think Molly is right in everything that she said. You really do need a big heart. And part of our role in HR is to make sure that we are the advocates, not only for the company, but for all of the employees as well. And sometimes that's a tricky place to be because there can be differences of opinions and ideas and just being that middle person and bringing everyone together is sometimes a challenge.

Guest 2: Absolutely. Everyone has their own opinions.

Host: Yes. We can definitely agree on that, that opinions are varied and sometimes broad and at odds and so on. So, yeah, HR, I'm sure is a very interesting place to be. Very gratifying and interesting, and sometimes perhaps a little complicated. So, how do you know, Cherie, that HR is a good fit, right? Obviously, you've probably been at this a long time. So, how did you know, and how would folks know if this is, "Okay." Yeah, this is the right thing for me"?

Guest 1: One of the things that I always come back to, the reason that I like my job and that I knew HR was a good fit for me is because I always like a good challenge. And I like working on my feet and I like being able to help others. I like being able to work with all of the employees, but also work with the company on how to better the company and employee engagement. But I would say the most important thing is if you are somebody that really likes a challenge, and if you like that your days are never going to be the same, HR might be a really good place for you.

Guest 2: Our days are never the same, and they're never what we thought they were going to be. You can have a list of things that you're going to get accomplished that day. And you could start the first one if someone walks into your office.

Host: Yeah. That's so true. And I'm sure that that's something that when you wake up in the morning and you look forward to going to work, you think, "Okay, what's going to happen today? What challenges will I have to overcome? Who will I interact with?" And I'm sure that's some of the things that keep you both motivated. And just kind of wondering, Molly, I don't know if you've worked outside of healthcare HR, but is that unique the experience of healthcare HR? And if it is, what are some of the unique challenge?

Guest 2: Well, I will tell you that my HR experience started off not in healthcare, it was very diverse. But I started in healthcare really as a part-time job just doing PRN work in the business office for the billing department, just wanted that second job. It turned into a full-time job in the business office. And then when a HR generalist position opened up, I jumped at the chance to get back into HR. I had had a child, we had had some health issues with family members. And so, it was kind of we did what we needed to do for the time being, and I was so grateful to get back into healthcare.

Your question of is it different than other fields? Sure, there are some variants, but really HR is HR. Everyone has questions. Everyone has benefits. Everyone has recruiting things that they are working on. So yes, the mechanics are very similar.

Host: Yeah, I see what you mean. And Cherie, I'm sure you would echo that, that you know, if you can do HR, if you're good at HR, if you love HR, then you can probably do it anywhere. What are maybe some of the unique things though, about Sierra Tucson and the healthcare HR that you do there?

Guest 1: I think the most unique thing about healthcare HR is making sure that our employees are also taken care of, their wellbeing, their mental health. In healthcare, a lot of times, you know, it's different than other corporations because we're dealing with a lot of heavy stuff, especially in mental health. And as HR professionals, being able to be cognizant of some of those things, making sure that we have a good employee assistance program. Making sure, you know, Molly mentioned earlier that we're providing excellent customer service and making sure that we're, you know, we're a support for our employees and not a stressor for our employees, because they see a lot, they hear a lot and that's something that, you know, you might not see at other corporations.

Host: Yeah. And Cherie, when we think about human resources management, so you are an HR manager, right? So, what is the importance of human resources management? And when you think about what you do on a daily basis and sort of the go-between between upper management and corporate, if you will, and then the employees, how do you find your space and feel like on a daily basis that you're sort of serving all the constituencies, if you will.

Guest 1: As the human resource director, I think it's really important to make sure that I'm communicating well with my team on some of the initiatives that are happening, on the morale of the teams because, you know, my team gets a lot of questions and Molly's team gets a lot of questions. And making sure that our team knows what's going on, so everybody can be as helpful as possible. But I also think that the importance of, you know, being in human resource management is, I guess, sometimes not as well known, but it's very important because we need to make sure that from the company's standpoint, we are ensuring compliance of all of our federal and state laws, making sure that our employees are taken care of. But, again, we're that middle man between our employees and the company. And so, making sure that both parties are doing what they need to be doing, you know, that's kind of where we've fall in line. And making sure that we're recruiting actively when needed is crucial to the continuation of the company to make sure that we have the employees to service our patients and our residents.

Host: Yeah. And Molly, let's talk about employee morale, right? You've got, as you mentioned, Sierra Tucson and then the other facilities. Let's talk about employee morale and how you sort of maintain that and keep everybody up and positive and, you know, focused on patients and clients and so on.

Guest 2: This has always been important, but I think even more so after COVID. People's morale has certainly dipped between and after COVID. We really work hard on employee appreciation. We do a lot of food here. We love our food actually.

Guest 1: We do.

Guest 2: We've had coffee carts, we've had ice cream stands. We've had Sonoran hotdogs. I don't know if you know what those are, being in the Midwest, but we love them here. We also give awards. We have an award for the employee of the month. And then, we have a new award we call it the Chase 'em Award. This is actually something that is very recent and very dear to our hearts. We had one of our employees pass away and this award is for him. It gives more of a friendship throughout the departments instead of being siloed into your own department. That was an award that we just started. We also have competitive wages. We also try really hard to have good communication. I think that goes a long way. So, we do a monthly all-staff meeting and send out emails, talk to each other voice to voice, then getting into each other's workspace as well helps with that communication.

Host: Yeah. That's really lovely to honor that person's memory. I'm assuming, of course, that you must have like Hawaiian shirt day, you know, Friday's maybe Hawaiian shirt day. You know, if you're not already doing that, feel free to use that one.

Guest 2: We are not. We have Jeans day, but not Hawaiian T-shirt day.

Host: Do some do? Do they mix in the Hawaiian shirts with the jeans? How does that work exactly?

Guest 2: I am sure some people do. We do have Red Shoe Friday, because we're a hospital of course. And so we have people that are working seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Well, hopefully not 24 hours for one person.

Host: HR wouldn't stand for that, right?

Guest 2: We really wouldn't. But on Friday, no matter if it's the Friday or someone's Thursday or Monday or whatever, we signify the day by wearing red shoes.

Host: I love that. Whatever day is that person's Friday, red shoes are permitted. That's awesome. Cherie, you know, Molly mentioned COVID and all the inherent challenges and it sort of feels like COVID is in the rear view mirror. But you know, it's not really totally. So, what are some of the challenges you're facing, whether it's COVID or otherwise in what you do in the HR department at Sierra Tucson?

Guest 1: Yeah, I think that's a great question. One of the things initially that happened during COVID was the unknown in being in healthcare was challenging because you may have had some people who did not want to work in healthcare anymore because of that. But as we're continuing to get out of that, I think that when people were leaving and leaving companies and healthcare companies in Sierra Tucson because they didn't want to work with COVID patients or they just were really unsure and rightfully so. But that caused the company to have some challenges with recruitment. And we've come a long way and it's not anywhere near where it used to be, which is fantastic. But I do still think that the burnout of our employees is still a real thing.

Guest 2: Totally.

Guest 1: Yeah. I mean, if we have employees who unfortunately get ill, then other employees kind of have to pick up the slack. And I just think that it's a challenge everywhere you go. But in healthcare, we have our patients to treat. And so, that kind of causes some stressors when those things happen. Or if we have any patients who have COVID as well, that's an additional stress and it kind of throws off the patient's or resident's schedules as well. So, we do the best that we can and our staff does a great job in making sure that they're still getting the treatment they deserve and being able to participate. We use Zoom to be able to do that, which is a great thing, but there's a lot of challenges that come with that.

Host: There are, for sure. And I'm sure you'd echo that, Molly, that, you know, it feels like we've all sort of gotten to a little bit more "normal place" since COVID, but we're still there. And recruitment is still an issue. Retention is still an issue serving everybody, right? The employees and the residents and everything in between. Maybe you can just talk about some of the challenges.

Guest 2: Oh, absolutely. Hiring great talent is one thing, but then keeping that talent is the other thing. After COVID, it appears that people just aren't staying at their jobs as long as they used to. If they don't like it, they leave. And so that's a big thing. They get burnt out so much easier now. They desire a work-life balance way more than they did. If they're nervous, they will call off those are some really big challenges that we have right now of trying to hire great talent, not find it because there are plenty of people that are applying. It's the hiring and getting through the onboarding process, getting them in the door to new hire orientation and then keeping them there.

To us, what are the things that will keep an employee at Sierra Tucson? And that goes way back to our conversation about employee morale.

Guest 1: And Molly, I think that's a really great thing to bring up again too because the employee morale everywhere has struggled because of COVID and staffing and, you know, you can list a number of things. And last year, we did an engagement survey, employee engagement survey. And the results that came back, you know, I analyzed them and I reviewed them and I went to each department and had a meeting with all of the staff. And some of the things that I heard were very similar across the board. Some things that they were asking for, of course, the employees wanted to feel heard and they wanted to be respected by other teams and other departments, and they wanted to know what other departments were doing and how all of that flowed in to what they were doing.

And that led us to our 2023 employee initiatives. And a few of the things that we started, one being monthly management trainings. So, I started that in January. And then, we also have a shadowing program. So, our staff, if they're interested in, for example, a primary therapist role, but they're working in a different department, then I can set up a shadowing time for them so they can see what others do. Our nursing department has shadowed our admissions department. Our entire executive leadership team has been through a mock admission that a patient goes through. These are things that are very important to Sierra Tucson to help each team understand what everybody else does, but also to help bring that comradery back and bring it to our mission, our vision, our values. We also started a mentorship program for our new hires. And so setting up our new hires with somebody who has been here for a while that they can go to, they can connect with, kind of a built-in friend, if you will, initially, have them do lunch together, coffee or, you know, whatever works for them.

Host: Hot dogs.

Guest 1: Yeah.

Guest 2: Sonoran hot dogs.

Host: Don't sleep on the hot dogs, right?

Guest 2: You're going to have to look that up. They're delicious

Guest 1: They are, they really are. But, you know, I think that really helped and I'm excited to see how that employee engagement, how our initiatives for 2023 will help with our retention and our employee engagement and overall employee satisfaction.

Host: Yeah, it sounds awesome and, obviously, including the hot dogs. As we wrap up here, Cherie, what are some of the effective communication tools? So, we've kind of covered these things I think throughout our conversation today, but maybe you can sort of synthesize or distill it down some of the effective communication tools that you could share with others when it comes to people, organizations. You know, let them sort of benefit from your wisdom.

Guest 1: Sure, sure. I think one of the most important things as a leader is to make sure that you have a one-on-one with your teammates. Making sure that you're talking with your team, because many times we're all so busy and we have so much work. But having one-on-ones with the team that you immediately supervise is really important. It builds trust, effective communication. It establishes a good team environment and it really just keeps everybody on that same page that you want in your department. And, you know, I think sometimes management might feel like that's a little bit overrated and they don't have time for that. But even just a check-in to see how the employee is feeling, how they're doing on a personal level, not even work level because that's really what we need to make sure and we want to check in on our staff and make sure everybody's okay. And what better person to do that than the person that's supervising them.

Host: Yeah, I think it's such a human thing, right? That we all want to feel valued and appreciated and sometimes those little things. Just a quick note or a quick text, "Hey, how are you? How's your day? How are the hotdogs?" You know, you're wearing your red shoes. You know, whatever it might be, those little things, they really do matter. And I'm sure you feel that way too, Molly. I kind of give last word to you. Like, when we think about things you would like to share, things that, you know, maybe are unique to Sierra Tucson, things that are really effective at Sierra Tucson, what would you share with others, so they could kind of benefit from not only the Sierra Tucson model of, you know, mind, body, spirit, but also what you all do there in HR?

Guest 2: Well, I think communication is a big factor. Communicate often, simply, directly is something that goes a long way. As Sherry mentioned, and as you mentioned as well, just the little text messages here or there or a little sticky on their computer or I've tended to go to Starbucks for my team and get them what they want on a particular day just to say, "Hey, thank you so much for doing all that you do for me, for our team, for Sierra Tucson. You make a difference."

Host: This has been really lovely today. We've been on a run here lately of we talked about adventure therapy and equine therapy and sort of data analysis. So, it's been a really great run on the podcast lately. I hope listeners have appreciated what we've been doing. And it's just awesome to learn about what you guys do and how you do it, and how everybody benefits along the way. So, thanks so much. You both stay well.

Guest 2: Thank you.

Guest 1: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

Host: And for more information, go to

And if you find this podcast to be helpful, please share it on your social channels. And be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Let's Talk: Mind, Body, Spirit from Sierra Tucson. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well.