Nursing Through the Law

Audrey Murphy has spent the past twenty-five years advising Hackensack Meridian Health on how to help its patients through the law

Audrey Murphy first realized her life’s passion was to help people when she worked in a rest home for the elderly as a teenager. Since then, she has built a successful career in healthcare, but her focus has always remained the same: helping people.

Murphy began her career by working shifts as a hospital nurse, and during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, she began to see the importance of law in healthcare. As AIDS patients lost their jobs and apartments due to fear of infection by the little-understood disease, Murphy saw that these patients needed more than healthcare–they also needed their rights.

While still working full-time, she began law school at Pace University, where she had earned her BSN and MSN in nursing. By 1992, she had earned her law degree with a concentration in healthcare and was hired at Hackensack University Medical Center as associate counsel and director of risk management.

Twenty-five years later, Audrey is now executive vice president, general counsel, hospital enterprise, for Hackensack Meridian Health, a network of thirteen hospitals and more than two hundred ambulatory care centers serving Bergen to Atlantic counties in New Jersey. Murphy and her ten-person department provide legal advice for Hackensack Meridian Health, which was formed from a merger of Hackensack University Health Network and Meridian Health System and is headquartered in Edison, New Jersey.

Audrey Murphy, EVP, General Counsel, Hospital Enterprise at Hackensack Meridian Health

“I have a great job,” she says. “It’s been a great career path. I’ve really enjoyed my job as it has changed over the years, and appreciate how there’s always something new to learn. I really enjoyed how the organization has evolved—we are now a very large network.”

The growth of Hackensack Meridian Health has brought its own set of challenges, although that’s not necessarily a problem for Murphy. “I like a challenge, so this has been a great position for me,” she says.

When it comes to the challenge of leading a team, her management philosophy is to be flexible and not to micromanage employees. “You need to allow people to be autonomous,” Murphy says. “You let them bloom on their own and celebrate when they do well. When the team does well, it makes the organization run well.”

And it’s no surprise that her nursing background has been invaluable in her legal work. “As legal counsel, you get pulled into a lot of operational issues and strategic planning,” she explains. “And if you have a healthcare background yourself, that’s a huge advantage because you understand how the healthcare system works.”

This understanding of the healthcare system has helped Murphy earn numerous awards for her and her legal department’s work. She won the Innovator Award at Pace University’s Spirit of Pace Awards Dinner in June 2016, and she and her staff were previously honored as the Best In-House Legal Department of the Year by the New Jersey Law Journal.

Murphy’s focus on helping patients through the law has continued in the innovative programs she has helped facilitate. One such program is called Orchestrate Excellence, which encourages supervisors to make the rounds of their hospitals and medical facilities to examine various aspects of their operations.

Recently, Murphy made the rounds at one of the network hospitals with the co-CEO, and she believes that making rounds is a best practice that is proven to help improve the experiences of patients, families, and team members.

“I like a challenge, so this has been a great position for me.”

Another new initiative is the Event Evaluation and Resolution Committee, which evaluates risks and suggests proactive steps to ensure patient safety.

The Grievance Investigation and Response Team is another new program geared toward patients and families, in which each facility’s patient experience team meets with top administrators, including Murphy, to discuss patient concerns and determine the best resolutions for them.

Despite her family and career responsibilities, Murphy still finds time to volunteer with numerous organizations, including Project Literacy of Greater Bergen County. “When I sit down to assist people with their reading skills, you realize that you need to be patient, set priorities, and take small steps,” Murphy says. “Volunteering is a very rewarding experience.”

Murphy still has another goal she would like to achieve: earning a doctorate in nursing. “I’m very interested in the patient safety aspect of patient care,” she says. “While we’ve made strides, I don’t think that we are anywhere near where we could be in terms of medical errors, patient falls, and other issues. Medical centers should be safe places. I think in the United States we should strive to have all of our healthcare facilities be high-reliability organizations with an emphasis on patient safety and quality care.”

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