Over the past few years, Adventist HealthCare (AHC), based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, United States, has been steadily and intentionally pursuing a goal of world-class excellence across the organization — an aspiration recently recognized by the U.S. National Institute of Standards in Technology (NIST) and the prestigious Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.
Since 2016, Adventist HealthCare has applied for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award — the highest national recognition for performance excellence that an organization or business can achieve. During that time, AHC demonstrated steady and marked improvements in process and operations across the system, which in 2020 has earned AHC a site visit — a coveted and distinct recognition earned by only nine companies around the U.S.
“We received the news with great excitement,” Terry Forde, president and CEO of Adventist HealthCare, said. “The recognition symbolized by the site visit is a key indicator that our team members across our system are passionately committed to improvement in every area and to delivering world-class care to all members of our communities.”
The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, administered and presented by NIST, began as a study to improve U.S. organizations’ effectiveness and competitiveness. NIST scrutinized the best companies in the world and the methods they used to achieve high levels of performance. A framework, or set of criteria, for excellence emerged as common themes began to be recognized. NIST’s findings are published in a book available to any company, school, or health-care organization. U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act into law in the mid-1980s to posthumously honor his former secretary of commerce, Malcolm Baldrige.
The Baldrige Award is the highest national recognition that an organization or business can achieve and is, arguably, one of the most difficult to obtain. John Sackett, Adventist HealthCare’s chief operating officer, explained that the award is so difficult to earn that at times companies chose to participate simply because they wanted to improve operations and learn from the feedback they received from the Baldrige team.
“As a faith-based health-care system, we ought to subject ourselves to the highest scrutiny and strive to achieve excellence,” Sackett said. “What better way than by using the Malcolm Baldrige framework? If you’re doing God’s work, there’s no excuse for mediocrity.”
Once a year, companies pursuing the Baldrige Award submit a 50-page application to the Baldrige Program. “To be eligible to apply for the national level,” Emily Miller, AHC’s director for Performance Excellence and Strategic Planning, said, “you have first to achieve the highest level of performance in your state program, or meet other criteria if your state does not have a program. Maryland does not, so we are eligible at the national level.”
After the application is submitted, Miller continued, “Baldrige examiners spend more than 40 hours reviewing [the company’s] processes and results, then provides the organization with a score and its top strengths and opportunities for improvement.” If its score meets the judges’ panel’s performance threshold, the organization earns a site visit. If it does not earn a visit, the organization is mailed a feedback report with strengths and opportunities to improve for the next year.
“An organization wants to earn a site visit,” Miller said, “because examiners come to visit to see your processes in action, which makes you eligible to earn the award and provides you with even better feedback to improve because they’ve seen the site and can ask clarifying questions regarding the processes in your application.”
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sackett said, AHC administrators will take examiners on a virtual guided tour through health-care facilities. During the visit, the experts will have the opportunity to interview employees and view key performance indicators posted in each department.
According to current information, AHC is the first multi-hospital health system in the Maryland/Washington DC/Virginia region to have ever earned a site visit. “Every single employee is responsible for this accomplishment,” Miller emphasized. “It takes tremendous discipline and process management to achieve improved performance year after year.”
Sackett agreed. “This is a team sport. When processes are put in place, the whole company knows exactly what we are trying to achieve, and each employee puts their shoulder to the wheel.”
After the site tour, the team of Baldrige experts will submit their findings to a judges’ panel. The panel completes a final review and recommends award recipients to the NIST director, who then passes the panel’s recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Together, the Secretary of Commerce and NIST director decide if the recommended companies are good role models, and then the Secretary of Commerce selects the award recipients. Winners will be announced before the end of the year. Finally, the President of the United States or another designee presents the award in late March or early April.
Regardless of whether AHC wins the award this year, Sackett said, “Success for us is when we achieve our mission, which is ‘to extend God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental, and spiritual healing’ on a world-class level to every person, every time.”
“The award is just the cherry on top,” Miller added. “It’s the validation that the processes that we’ve so carefully designed to meet each patient’s needs are now performing at the world-class level that we set out to achieve.”