Janesville73.2°

Mercy earns top national honors

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GINA R. HEINE
November 21, 2007
— When the long-awaited news arrived, Javon Bea had to make sure he heard it right.

“I made the Secretary of Commerce repeat it twice to me. That’s kind of the reaction,” he said. “It’s been a long journey of excellence.”


Bea, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Health Systems, just had been informed that his organization is one of five to receive the 2007 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. It is the nation’s highest presidential honor for organizational performance excellence.


The award reflects an effort that began in 1989 when Bea became the leader of Mercy, which was a $33 million hospital with no full-time physicians, he said. Now, it has 285 physicians in 64 facilities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.


This is the fourth year in a row that Mercy applied for the award, and preparations started at least three years before that, Bea said.


As Mercy received feedback each year, it made countless improvements, he said. For example, it decreased mortality and hospital-acquired infections and improved all clinical indicators.


“It’s really a seven-year journey to excellence,” Bea said. “You keep getting better. It’s a very rigorous process.”


The 2007 Baldrige Award recipients were selected from 84 applicants. An independent board of examiners evaluated them in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results.


At Mercy, quality improvement teams comprising nine senior leaders and seven managers focused on different aspects of the award, Bea said.


Baldrige health care recipients also must demonstrate increased market share, greater customer satisfaction, quality of care outcomes, improved employee relations and enhanced operating performance.


The evaluation process for the five recipients included about 1,000 hours each of review and on-site visits by teams of examiners to clarify questions and verify information in the applications, said Michael Newman, a spokesman for the award.


Applications fees for a health care organization of Mercy’s size are $6,150, plus between $20,000 to $35,000 for a site visit, he said.


The 2007 Baldrige Award winners are expected to receive their awards in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., early next year.


Preparing for the award improved the flow of service and work throughout the organization—from the time a patient enters the doctor’s office to the time treatment is complete, Bea said.


“You can’t skip any steps in the Baldrige process,” he said.


All Baldrige recipients share their performance strategies and implementation with more than 1,000 organizations at a national conference.


Mercy achieved the honor by “getting thousands of physicians and nurses and support staff all working together, pulling in the same direction,” Bea said. “That’s really what it takes.”


Having the Baldrige stamp of approval will help Mercy attract physicians and nurses committed to quality, Bea said.


“They know we’re quality-centered,” he said. “You can’t receive this award without it.”


Part of the challenge—and an aspect specifically recognized in the award announcement—was having Mercy apply as an integrated health system instead of just one or all of its three hospitals, Bea said.


Baldrige has honored other hospital organizations, but they weren’t entire systems. Mercy’s award for organizational excellence is different, Bea said, because it means everything from its three hospitals, 285 physicians and their offices, its homeless center, insurance company and other 64 entities needed to meet the Baldrige standards.


What the award doesn’t mean is that Mercy is perfect or that people will never see another patient complain about perceived long wait times in the Gazette’s Sound Off column, Bea said.


“But what it is saying is when you’re treating over a million patients a year in 64 locations that patients have a much greater opportunity of achieving top quality at Mercy,” he said.


As for what’s next after Mercy achieved the highest presidential honor for organizational performance excellence, a laughing Bea said he would make some calls to “see if the pope gives out any awards.”


Who was Malcolm Baldrige?

Malcolm Baldrige was secretary of Commerce from 1981 until his death in a rodeo accident in July 1987. Baldrige was a proponent of quality management as a key to this country’s prosperity and long-term strength. He took a personal interest in the quality improvement act that was eventually named after him and helped draft one of the early versions.


What is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award?

The Baldrige Award is given by the president of the United States to businesses—manufacturing and service, small and large—and to education, health care and nonprofit organizations that apply and are judged to be outstanding in seven areas.


The award criteria categories are: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results.


Congress established the award program in 1987 to recognize U.S. organizations for their achievements in quality and performance and to raise awareness about the importance of quality and performance excellence as a competitive edge.


The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology manages the Baldrige National Quality Program in close cooperation with the private sector.


Do the award criteria take into account an organization’s financial performance?

Yes. The criteria include many factors that contribute to financial performance, including business decisions and strategies that lead to better market performance, gains in market share, and customer retention and satisfaction.


Organizations are urged to use financial information, including profit trends, in analyzing and reporting on improved overall performance and to look for the connection between the two.


Does the award amount to a product or service endorsement for the award recipients?

No. The award is given because an organization has shown it has an outstanding system for managing its products, services, human resources and customer relationships.


Why are the Baldrige Award recipients asked to share their successful strategies?

One of the main purposes of the award is to pass on information about the recipient’s performance excellence strategies that other organizations can tailor for their own needs. Representatives from the award recipients willingly have shared their organizations’ performance strategies and methods with thousands.


To what extent are they asked to share their strategies?

The managers of each recipient must decide how much time and effort to devote to activities such as speaking engagements and tours of facilities. The requirements of the award program are minimal.


Recipients are asked to participate in the award’s annual conference and several co-sponsored regional conferences to provide basic materials to those who request it on the organization’s performance strategies and methods and to answer news media inquiries.


Source: Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Web site.


Award details

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recognized Mercy’s innovation and excellence, including:


-- Winning the award as an integrated health system, not just one or more hospitals. That means all entities across the system must meet the Baldrige standards and are receiving the recognition.


-- Mercy Health System’s workforce satisfaction results. Mercy is ranked 16th in the Top 100 Integrated Healthcare Networks by Verispan and Modern Healthcare Magazine.


It also won the Governor’s Forward Award of Excellence from Wisconsin Forward and the American Hospital Association’s "Great Comebacks" award for overall excellence.


The Center for Healthcare Industry Performance Studies ranked the system the No. 1 fastest-growing health system in the country for "same store" growth. Mercy also has been recognized as No. 1 on AARP’s Top 50 Best Employers for Employees Over 50 and one of Working Mother Magazine’s Top 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.


-- "Phenomenal" growth and results. The once-struggling single location hospital now boasts 64 facilities in 24 communities as part of its vertically integrated health system, and it spans a seven county geographic area.


In 1989, Mercy was a $33 million hospital with no full-time physicians. Today, its 285 physicians are responsible for about $300 million of the system’s $833 million in revenues. In the last five years, Mercy has averaged a 7.1 percent return on net revenues and has had an average growth in equity of 14.4 percent.


Mercy serves more than 1 million patients a year and provides more than $32 million in free services and uncompensated care. Since 1989, total patient visits increased tenfold, the number of employees grew by more than 700 percent, and revenues increased 2,300 percent.


-- Current overall mortality rates. The rates match the best practice benchmark set by Care Science, a provider of care management, clinical analysis and clinical quality improvement solutions.


Rates for community-acquired pneumonia mortality have decreased steadily since 2003, with current results at 1.2 percent—significantly below the benchmark of 4.0 percent.


Award recipients

The 2007 Malcolm Baldrige Award recipients, listed with their category, are:


-- Small business: PRO-TEC Coating, Leipsic, Ohio.


-- Health care: Mercy Health System, Janesville.


-- Health care: Sharp HealthCare, San Diego, Calif.


-- Nonprofit: City of Coral Springs, Coral Springs, Fla.


-- Nonprofit: U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.



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