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Sara Elizabeth Payne
While the health care debate heats up around the country,
several health systems in the United States are blazing trails in the
health care industry and forming models for other health providers to
Three of these health systems have been recognized by the
president as recipients of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Award.
AtlantiCare, a New Jersey-based system and Heartland Health, based in
Missouri, received the coveted award for 2009. Last year Rulon Stacey,
CEO of Poudre Valley Health System, met with vice president Joe Biden to
accept his 2007 award on behalf of Poudre Valley Health System, based
in Northern Colorado.
While the three health systems’ success followed a similar
path, each one highlighted a unique approach to management that helped
them build their reputation as a top health system in the nation. And at
this time when the country’s glaring eyes are fixed on health care,
success stories are a much-needed gem.
Stacey has been spreading his success story around the
globe for the past year, presenting the rags to riches success story of a
tiny, average hospital in the west that nearly quadrupled revenues in
ten years and became the only health care provider awarded with the
Baldrige Award in 2007.
“I wanted us to be the best we could be and achieve the
most we can,” Stacey says. “I didn’t expect perfection, but we were
successful as long as everyone was engaged and we were all moving in the
Stacey focused most of his efforts on employee
satisfaction. He says that when employees are satisfied and work as a
team, quality health care for patients is a natural result. When Stacey
began in 1997, Poudre Valley had cycled through five CEOs in four years
and dealt with a 24 percent employee turnover rate.
To combat this, he motivated employees–whether custodians
or board members–to feel like they were working every day to improve the
organization. Management also implemented an open-door policy, where
employees felt free to offer suggestions and voice concerns with top
Now employee turnover is reduced to 8 percent, which
places it in the top ten percent of health systems in the nation for
lowest turnover rate. Modern Healthcare magazine also placed
Poudre Valley in the top 100 places to work two years in a row. Last
year Poudre Valley earned the Engaging Employees in Excellence Award
from Medical Services of America.
“I feel like I went to war with these people,” Stacey says
of bonding with employees. “We are so close because this organization
is so close, synergistic, and mutually beneficial.”
Even with the emphasis on employee satisfcation, employees
never seemed to lose sight of their ultimate goal–to provide
world-class health care to each patient.
“We are making people live,” Stacey says. “I really
believe there are people alive today who would not be if there were not
people committed to providing world-class health care.”
In 2009, Thomson Reuters noted that mortality rate were
lower than the lowest ten percent in the population. Patients have
acknowledged Poudre Valley’s exceptional service by continually ranking
the health system higher for eight consecutive years, a feat only two
percent of health organizations have been able to achieve.
Without top-notch management, however, Poudre Valley could
not have succeeded. Stacey, who earned a master’s in health
administration from Brigham Young University’s Romney Institute, says
with the nation’s spotlight shining on the health care industry, it’s
particularly important to place people in leadership who have a
“I encourage health administrators to shed the
control-and-dominate approach to management,” Stacey says. “I prefer to
adopt the abundance mentality: if everyone gets more, there’s no
contention. Eeveryone’s happy, and people are better served.”
Creating a collaborative atmosphere was initially a
concern for AtlantiCare. But its eventual community-based approach
helped it receive last year’s Baldrige Award. In the mid ‘90s,
AtlantiCare took pride in its innovative individual departments. But the
CEO noticed that in order to be successful, the departments needed to
work as a team.
“We realized we were good individually,” says Joan
Brennan, vice president of quality and performance excellence. “We had
very innovative individual business units, but we weren’t necessarily
functioning as a system.”
So the CEO solicited ideas from management to find the
best way to transform AtlantiCare from a good healthcare system to a
great one. Management decided that the criteria embedded in the Malcolm
Baldrige National Quality Award program best exemplified the standards
that they wanted to set for AtlantiCare.
Run by the Office of the President, the Baldrige Award
recognizes a handful of organizations each year that excel in
leadership, management, service, and other notable categories.
AtlantiCare adopted a vision to create healthy communities
and inspired its employees to work together toward this common goal. To
start off, new AtlantiCare employees are required to take a one-day
Baldrige course to learn about how to implement the vision in the
workplace. Management also made sure that departments help each other
Their work paid off. In 2001, AtlantiCare won a bronze
award on the state level. Over the next few years AtlantiCare continued
to implement the suggestions given to them by Baldrige committee member
until they received the award in 2009.
“We had been raising the bar in all areas in the past few
years,” says Brennan, who worked as a nurse before joining AtlantiCare’s
management. “We also worked on prioritizing the messages to staff,
helping them understand the importance of our ultimate goal, which is to
create a healthy community.”
Then, realizing collaboration within the health system
alone was not enough, AtlantiCare collaborated with surrounding
communities in order to meet their vision.
“Health care is inherently local,” Brennan says. “Everyone
is working toward quality local health care no matter what part of the
system they work in. But it’s not just about the healthcare model; it’s
about how we partner with our community members.”
AtlantiCare runs several community program s to educate
citizens on appropriate health care practices. It has partnered with
local schools, chambers of commerce, and casinos–which employ many
Because of the health system’s community involvement and
its commitment to patient satisfaction, it now shows up on the national
radar for exceptional health care performance. Brennan says they will
continually improve and innovate, maintaining its spot as a nationwide
leader in the health industry.
“Most Baldrige recipients are constantly thirsty to learn
what others are doing that are innovative, new, or exciting,” Brennan
says. “Then they bring those ideas back into the health care environment
to nurture those ideas. Everyone can listen, but the successful health
care providers bring it back and tests the ideas.”
Sara Elizabeth Payne is a J.D.Candidate 2011 at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, BYU. Email: [email protected]