Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Decade striving for Baldrige Award was the reward for Sutter Davis Hospital

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

When Janet Wagner and the roughly 400 employees of Sutter Davis Hospital set out to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2003, they could not have known the award was not the reward.

A journey of 10 years taught them that lesson, said Wagner, the hospital’s chief administrative officer. She will bring the Baldrige Award home to the Davis community in April. Given by the president of the United States, it recognizes businesses that are beacons for overall organizational quality. Fewer than 100 companies have received the honor since it was created in 1987, and it is a first for a Sacramento Valley company.

“When we started, we really had to do some self-reflection and say, ‘What is that we do best? What’s our core competency?’” Wagner said. “And my managers and the doctors and my employees said, ‘Our core competency is our culture of caring; how we take care of each other, our patients, our doctors, our community?’”

Wagner began by inviting Baldrige Award-winning health care consultants to come in and share the key behaviors, that if done at every patient encounter, will result in patient satisfaction.

“I was real excited about rolling out this thing,” Wagner said, “and one of my night nurses came to me and said, ‘Janet, I don’t think my colleagues are getting it.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, ‘not getting it?’ And she said, “I don’t think the way it’s getting rolled out, that they’re getting it. Sometimes senior management talks about things and rolls them out, and they don’t really connect (the dots) with every single front-line employee.”

There were moments like this over the last 10 years, where Wagner or her staff had to stop, back up, re-evaluate and try again. In this case, Wagner asked night nurse Carolyn Campos to take what the consultants had brought to them and customize it for Sutter Davis employees. Instead of six behaviors, the Sutter staff identified 10. And Campos worked with Wagner and other staff to create a training module. It’s the basis for orientation for all Sutter employees now.

“She talked about specific behaviors and how we would actually get people to do them over and over and over again,” Wagner said. “… She is the owner and the creator. She was a night nurse in the birthing center, and now she’s a manager of the birthing center. She is one of my best examples of succession planning and growth and development of a leader.”

Wagner has created a framework for communicating key messages to all employees. She regularly brings in Rob Scherer, who runs the local Dale Carnegie Training affiliate, to coach her management team. She also measures key aspects of performance, such as patient satisfaction, physician satisfaction, productivity and budget variances. In fact, if you ride on the elevator at Sutter Davis, look for the Turtle Times. It shows how the hospital is performing in many areas, and it gets posted even if a department isn’t meeting standards.

Tools like this one helped the hospital become a Truven Top 100 hospital in 2007, and it has maintained that ranking. Then from 2010 to 2012, the hospital received the highest honor from the California Awards for Performance Excellence. The string of awards brought special recognition from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Wagner said that she could never have won the Baldrige Award if she hadn’t started at the state level.

“We worked with the … California Council for Excellence, and it’s a Baldrige process,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that our state has a very rich quality development for leaders. So I worked with the state of California for five or six years and national for the same amount of time, but I have a lot to thank our state for because the California Council for Excellence prepared us for the national process.”

The Sutter Davis employees no longer view simply satisfying a patient as being enough, Wagner said. They want patients to have a remarkable customer experience.

“We had a patient in ICU,” she said. “She was dying, and she never made it to Europe to see a European garden, which was her dream, and we knew and she knew that she wasn’t ever going to make it to Europe to see those gardens. The staff brought books in for her, pictures, so she would be surrounded by the things she loved, and she would have that visual image. … People have hearts and souls. We don’t just take care of their wounds and their congestive heart failures. You have to go way beyond that.”

The Baldrige Award has brought interview requests from media outlets around the nation and a number of speaking engagements, Wagner said, but the reward is what she’s learned and is learning about connecting with employees’ belief systems, establishing a framework for continuous improvement and ensuring that every patient is embraced by a culture of caring.