2015 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner Charleston (W.Va.) Area Medical Center (CAMC) Health System began its Baldrige journey 15 years ago, because it “had an absolute obligation to our community to be the best we could possibly be,” says CAMC President and CEO David Ramsey.

“We are somewhat unique in that we are a large tertiary referral hospital that sits in a mostly rural area and we offer services that no other hospital in the area offers,” says Ramsey. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we provide better care to our patients? How can we be a better employer or community citizen?’ Baldrige helped answer those questions.”

David RamseyThe Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Nov. 19 announced that CAMC was one of four organizations to receive the 2015 award, the nation’s highest presidential honor for quality and performance excellence. The AHA is the lead sponsor of the program’s 2015-2016 Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence, and the first organization in the program’s 26-year history to sponsor the criteria.

CAMC is a three-hospital, 900-bed network, with more than 7,000 employees, a trauma center and pediatric intensive care unit. CAMC’s interest in the Baldrige award began in 2000 when it adopted the Six Sigma methodology to standardize its processes and attack quality problems. The Six Sigma steps – Define, Measure, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control – required the health system to gather a lot of data to evaluate and improve performance. But it was when CAMC started putting an application together for the Baldrige program that it crystallized what it had to do build quality improvement throughout the organization.

“We have so many local measures of quality that we work diligently on, but the unique thing about Baldrige is that it looks at the entire organization; it looks at many categories – our customers, our vendors, our patients, our entire workforce, our communications processes, our leadership processes – it’s a very complex amount of data,” says Elizabeth Pellegrin, CAMC’s chief marketing director. “Because the Baldrige criteria is for all types of companies, it points to how we are performing when compared to other companies all across the United States, including those in health care.”

Baldrige has helped spur performance improvements that keep CAMC ranked high nationally in Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ratings for quality of care and patient safety.

For example, CAMC’s sepsis performance improvement team saved 1,798 lives from 2011 to 2014 through increased awareness and early identification, ranking it among the best performers nationally. The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or CAHPS survey, shows CAMC ranks in the top 10% nationally for outpatient satisfaction in all areas, including wait times, communication, staff courtesy and respect, doctor time with patient, and information given to patients for self-care.

By following Baldrige’s continuing performance review process, the health system has achieved supply chain management savings of $12 million over the past four years, according to NIST. “Before we started the Baldrige process, we had not focused on the supply line and what we do to partner with our vendors to improve inventory and cost and service delivery,” Ramsey says.  “Had we not started the Baldrige journey that is something that we probably would not have been tracking.”

Whether your hospital is small or large, has one building or multiple sites across the country, Ramsey says the program’s health care criteria offers a valuable framework that can help hospitals achieve results. The Baldrige criteria will help hospitals get better faster, he says.

To date, hospitals and health systems have accounted for 20 of the 102 organizations that have received Baldrige awards. The program began in 1989, but health care organizations first became eligible for the award in 1998.

Baldrige CriteriaThe award recognizes businesses and education and health care organizations that have made outstanding achievements in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; management; analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; organization focus; and results. Organizations that pass an initial screening are visited by teams of examiners who spend hundreds of hours evaluating performance, interviewing personnel and preparing feedback on strengths and areas for improvement.

CAMC’s commitment to organizational improvement is matched by “a heart as big as the West Virginia mountains,” said NIST in announcing that the health system was an award recipient. “As West Virginia’s largest provider of uncompensated care, CAMC exceeds local and national benchmarks for such activity, reflecting its mission to provide the best care to every patient, every day,” the agency said.

Ramsey recalls the Baldrige surveyors’ final visit to CAMC. “As they were leaving, our folks broke into the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’ which is sort of an anthem for West Virginia,” he says. “It was very heartwarming and emotional.”