The Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) is the 2016 recipient of the Dick Davidson Quality Milestone Award for Allied Association Leadership for its work to improve health care quality, the AHA announced June 14.

The AHA presents the award each year to a state, regional or metropolitan hospital association that demonstrates leadership and innovation in quality improvement and contributes to national health care improvement efforts. The Ohio Hospital Association and Kansas Hospital Association were selected as honorable mentions for the 2016 award, which will be presented July 17 at the 2016 Health Forum-AHA Leadership Summit in San Diego. 

The award is named for AHA President Emeritus Dick Davidson, who strongly promoted the role of hospital associations in leading quality improvement during his tenure as AHA president and as president of the Maryland Hospital Association. The award’s judges cited MHA’s progress in improving patient care and population health while reducing costs.

AHA News recently spoke to MHA President and CEO Carmela Coyle about her association’s quality-improvement efforts.

 AHA News: Can you describe the association’s role in leading this critical push to quality?

 Carmela CoyleCoyle: When it comes to quality issues, hospitals have different areas in which they need to improve. At MHA, one of our key roles in the improvement effort is to identify those collective initiatives that would help the most hospitals and thus generate the biggest impact on quality improvement. Our other key role is convener, the entity that brings people together to tackle a specifically identified challenge. For example, we worked closely with our key strategic partners, the Maryland Patient Safety Center, to lead Maryland’s hand hygiene collaborative. The effort was just that – helping the field collaborate outside and inside their organizations to make sure hand washing protocols were being complied with. And on initiatives to reduce sepsis mortality, we not only convened our members but also worked with partner organizations to develop an early sepsis identification program targeting the skilled nursing facilities that send the most septic patients to those hospitals.

 AHA News: What has been key to helping you achieve your quality outcomes?

 Coyle: The key undoubtedly has been that we routinely get participation from all hospitals, and they learn from each other. No one has ever said “we don’t have a problem in that area” and refused to participate because their record “is good enough.” Everyone recognizes that improvement is a constant journey, not a goal. When we gathered front-line people from the field to kick off our initiative on readmissions reduction, for example, we had more than 250 people show up ... this from a state with only 46 acute care hospitals. In fact, every single one of our initiatives is at or near 100% participation. I believe we are the only state in the country to achieve that level of consistent commitment. 

 AHA News: Describe your hospitals’ role in the quality effort. Are they looking for opportunities to collaborate?

 Coyle: Their first role is commitment. They understand the need for these initiatives, and they understand the way to meet that need is to tackle problems that are identifiable and measureable. They also understand that success comes from the top, with the full support and endorsement of the C-suites. We ask each CEO to sign on, thus committing the resources of the organization to support the effort. As for collaboration, they certainly do seek opportunities, within and outside their walls. Within, by making sure different departments are communicating to ensure safety, from emergency department physicians to housekeeping. Outside, hospitals are working with each other and with other providers and community groups to ensure not just the success, but also the spread and sustainability of these initiatives.

 AHA News: What advice do you have for other associations seeking to replicate your success?

 Coyle: Probably the best advice is to secure top-down support and endorsement. Having a CEO who sees a safety initiative not as a burden but as an opportunity goes a long way toward getting the rest of the crew on board. And once on board we use transparency of data and outcomes to drive improvement. When they see that improvement translating into saved lives and better outcomes, it’s a win-win for all. Another key to success is how we leverage and align initiatives with partner organizations. Our approach to readmissions reduction, for example, includes a lot of hard work at the local hospital level, but was bolstered by a statewide steering committee made up of executives from provider and community associations. We developed a common dashboard, shared calendars to cross-pollinate one another's events and board meetings. This ensured we were all pulling on the same rope, in the same direction.