In early March 2022, Adventist HealthCare (AHC), a church-affiliated health system based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, United States, learned that it had earned the Malcolm Baldrige Category Best Practice Recognition for its leadership system.
Organizations earning that designation are considered role models for performance excellence by high-performing businesses around the globe.
“The past two years have been extremely difficult for health-care systems,” AHC president and CEO Terry Forde said. “This honor is a concrete recognition that every team member across our system is united in our mission to extend physical, mental, and spiritual healing through compassion, high-quality care — even when facing the many challenges of COVID-19.”
Highest Presidential Honor for Performance Excellence
The Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) was established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to raise awareness of quality management and to recognize U.S. companies that have implemented successful quality-management systems. The award is the nation’s highest presidential honor for performance excellence. Awards are granted in six business categories: manufacturing, service company, small business, education, health care, and nonprofit. Education and health care were added in 1999. The program is managed by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Organizations that apply for the award must demonstrate achievement and improvement in seven areas known as Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. Those areas are Leadership, Strategy, Customers, Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management, Workforce, Operations, and Results. AHC won an award in the leadership category. Submissions are judged by an independent board of examiners. Examiners spend a minimum of 300 hours reviewing each application. Strong applicants are awarded a site visit with more than 700 hours of interviews and analyses. In 2021, AHC was one of only seven organizations to receive a site visit, and the only health-care organization.
AHC was awarded site visits in each of the last two years. “This means that we have designed, explained, and implemented our strategic processes so well that the Baldrige experts wanted to take a closer look and see our processes in action first-hand,” Forde said.
Sharing the Journey
On April 5, 2022, Forde and three members of the Baldrige team shared with attendees of the 33rd “Quest for Excellence” conference AHC’s six-year journey to celebrating this milestone. Presenting with Forde were John Sackett, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, Eunmee Shim, president of Adventist HealthCare Fort Washington Medical Center, and Emily Miller, director of Performance and Operational Excellence. All three were integral to the start of the Baldrige journey at Adventist HealthCare. All agree that earning recognition for leadership excellence is an honor and an acknowledgement that AHC is a world-class organization that can serve as a model for other businesses on how to consistently improve safety, ensure a positive patient experience, and optimize health outcomes, while reducing costs.
All also agreed that the journey is not over. Sackett thanked the audience for not asking the obvious question: “Why didn’t you win the [overall] award?” And then he answered the question. “As you know, it’s a journey. You don’t become world class because it’s easy,” Sackett explained. adding, “If you’re trying to be better than 90 percent of all organizations, it’s not an easy task. The reality is it’s not actually about winning the award, it’s about getting better every year. We’re having to learn how to be better.”
Map, Manage, and Measure
Shim and Miller became the architects of the application submission, breaking the process down into small steps, creating a roadmap, and establishing rules of governance to prioritize projects and not lose site of the purpose. And then COVID-19 happened. “During that time, the Baldrige framework was really the beacon of light for us. It guided us through a very difficult time,” Shim commented. “Leadership was able to lean on the framework they had been articulating for the Baldrige application. They relied on the leadership system so that all in the organization were working in unison. So, I have to say, Baldrige works.”
Baldrige works because it empowers organizations to become the best version of themselves by establishing rigorous standards and processes, and then mapping, managing, and measuring, and insisting on transparency in every department across the organization.
As Forde explained to the Quest audience, “We realized as a leadership team that we had lots of different ways that we lead, but we didn’t have a standardized leadership system. We needed a leadership system that would serve us and would allow us to accomplish all the things we wanted to get done.”
Bigger, Better, and Beyond
That system has evolved over the years and will continue to evolve but is built on four key pillars, Forde says — AHC’s people, quality and patient safety, experience, and finances. The pillars will not change much over time. These are things that every health-care organization works on and where AHC sets big, audacious goals, he added. These are AHC’s pillars of excellence. Surrounding those pillars are three strategic themes. Bigger — to sustainably expand on AHC’s mission. Better — to consistently perform with excellence, getting better within those four pillars of excellence. Beyond — that’s where innovation happens.
Innovation emerging out of a leadership system that puts people first helps AHC become the gold standard for health-care system operations, leaders concluded. AHC is committed to being the best place to work and grow for employees and to ensuring the level of quality and safety in each facility provides a world-class experience to every patient every time, they said. For those reasons, AHC is confident in its future because it is committed to its mission of extending God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental, and spiritual healing.