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Sharp’s Push for Improvements Pays Off With Presidential Award

While some health care organizations continue to struggle both financially and organizationally, Sharp HealthCare exemplifies how a health care system, and a business, can achieve enough success to be recognized by the White House.

In mid-November, administrators at the San Diego-based health care system received word that Sharp had received the 2007 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for organizational performance excellence.

It was established by Congress in 1987 to enhance the competitiveness and performance of U.S. businesses, and was named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th secretary of commerce, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Web site.

The award, which is funded by Congress and managed by the NIST, a federal agency based in Gaithersburg, Md., is considered a prestigious presidential honor. The application process examines seven facets of organization and performance, which is followed by a lengthy site visit that includes feedback for improvement.

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Later this year, Sharp’s staff will travel to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony that has not yet been scheduled.

Other recipients in 2007 include Pro-Tec Coating Co. of Leipsic, Ohio; Mercy Health System of Janesville, Wis.; city of Coral Springs in Florida; and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Sharp’s award was the culmination of a long-desired goal , involving four years of applications and changes within the organization , and numerous initiatives that pulled Sharp into a premier position in the health care community.

Sharp, which reported $1.9 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2007, manages four acute-care hospitals, three specialty hospitals and three affiliated medical groups in the county. It also employs 14,000 people and has 19 outpatient medical clinics and a health insurance plan.


Baldrige Process

After applying three times at the state level , achieving bronze, silver and gold designations , and applying twice at the national level, Sharp received the top award in its second national application.

“There’s a continual focus on a sustainable environment,” said Mike Murphy, chief executive officer and president of Sharp HealthCare since 1991. “They want to know: ‘Are we achieving results?’ ”

“It’s looking at systematic processes,” said Nancy Pratt, senior vice president of clinical effectiveness at Sharp. “We’ve sustained year-over-year improvements.

“It’s not to say we’re perfect. There’s opportunity for improvement.”

Murphy added that one of the health care system’s initiatives, called The Sharp Experience, which was introduced in 2001, was a big factor in Sharp’s success with meeting Baldrige criteria.

The Sharp Experience consists of six pillars , quality, service, people, finance, growth and community , which are similar to the seven facets of the Baldrige criteria.

The organization’s improvements resulting from The Sharp Experience include best practice blood-sugar control in patients with diabetes, employee turnover rates below the industry average, physician satisfaction in the top 10 percent and increased patient satisfaction, according to Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist for Sharp.

“Their best practice strategies deploy those goals,” Pratt said of the six pillars. “The line of sights is from every one of our 14,000 employees. It’s an enormous amount of synergy.”

Other facts reported by NIST regarding Sharp include:

– & #8201;Sharp’s net revenue increased $900 million during a six-year span beginning in 2001.

– & #8201;The acute-care hospitals are within the top 10 percent in performance nationally for treating pneumonia patients who have not been recently hospitalized.

– & #8201;The economic value of community benefits that are provided by Sharp increased by $80 million during a five-year period.

– & #8201;Number of hours donated for community programs grew 600 percent from 2003 to 2006.

– & #8201;Sharp is one of nine health care organizations across the country to receive the “100 Most Wired” award nine years in a row, which was given to Sharp by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.

It was Pratt who suggested that Sharp apply for the Baldrige program. The health system soon applied at the state level for the first time. Site visits, consisting of up to 1,000 hours of review, were held in October.

The application also helped Sharp administrators tighten up facets that were already in place. When the topic of knowledge management came up, both Murphy and Pratt knew it was in place because it’s a typical attribute for hospitals and health care organizations.

“We did not know how to explain it,” Pratt said. “We spent some time and started to act more like a system.”

Murphy added that the Baldrige tools helped improve and streamline the organizational systems already in place.

“Baldrige is a learning opportunity,” Murphy said. “While we are thrilled, we have become a much better organization. We’ve incorporated improvement in what we do each and every day.”


Awards In Community

Solar Turbines Inc. is one of three San Diego companies to be named a Baldrige recipient. The producer of midrange industrial gas turbines was the first local business to receive the award in 1998.

In 2006, another San Diego-based health care organization received the award. Premier Inc. applied twice at the state level in North Carolina (where the majority of the company’s employees are located) and twice at the national level.

Premier is a health care alliance of 1,700 hospitals and 49,000 health care sites that Sharp is a part of.

Even a year later, after giving 30 presentations about Baldrige and its role with Premier, President and CEO Rick Norling said it’s still a challenge to become better.

“The real challenge is to continue to use the criteria to recognize that there are plenty of improvement opportunities,” he said.

Norling, Murphy and Pratt, along with Harry Hertz, the director of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program, are quick to emphasize that the real benefit of the award is the feedback from the examiners’ site visits. Even award winners continue to receive feedback for improvement.

“The whole Baldrige process is a process more than an award,” Pratt said. “It’s not a win-lose situation, it’s a learning situation.”

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