December 8, 2012

Inland, Sebasticook Valley hospitals credit culture, computers for high ratings

Central Maine hospitals rated in top 13 rural medical centers in America, according to nonprofit group

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Two small hospitals 25 miles from each other made a list of the 13 best rural hospitals in the nation and adminstrators said it has a lot to do with workplace culture and computers.

Victoria Alexander-Lane

Contributed photo

John Dalton

Staff file photo

Infections and other preventable errors are becoming less common at Inland Hospital of Waterville and Sebasticook Valley Health of Pittsfield, two of the top 13 rural hospitals in the nation, according to an independent nonprofit group dedicated to improving health care.

The group, Leapfrog, released the list after an analysis of public data on more than 200 hospitals showed that Inland and Sebasticook minimize hospital errors that hurt patients and increased health care costs.

Statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control show that hospitals give infections to 1.7 million patients a year, costing more than $30 billion.

Inland President John Dalton and Sebasticook President Victoria Alexander-Lane said workplace culture and computers are behind their success.

Workplace culture

"The fact that we continue to reduce errors, the fact that we're essentially driving hospital-acquired infections out of this hospital, that's the culture," Dalton said.

Part of that is making peer interviews a big part of the hiring process.

"Our folks know right away, does this person care," Dalton said. "Are they going to be part of our culture? Are they going to buy into this obsessive attention to trying to find out how to do better?"

Rick Barry, Inland's vice president of patient care services, said staff members help screen out inferior candidates.

"If the staff tells the manager this person isn't the right fit, the manager takes that seriously and we don't bring that person in," Barry said.

At Sebasticook, Alexander-Lane said job candidates are held to the hospital's core values, even when it is difficult to fill a position.

"We have found ourselves in a position where we really needed somebody, and we've said 'we haven't found the person who meets the values,' and we have gone without," she said.

The values, including open communication, are applied equally to each employee, from the housekeepers to the board of directors, Alexander-Lane said.

Because of this, the days of close-minded doctors intimidating nurses and ignoring advice are over.

"We have zero tolerance for doctors who feel they don't need to listen," she said. "It's important to have a good relationship between doctors and nurses which will result in nurses feeling empowered to speak up when they see something wrong."

This is helped by a training program in which nurses receive specific instructions on what to say when calling a doctor about, for example, unexpected post-operative pain.

"I've see this happen and it's frustrating," Alexander-Lane said. "The nurse calls with inadequate information, the doctor becomes frustrated and is very busy and says, 'go back and get that information' or makes the decision without all the information. It doesn't lead to a good relationship."

Sebasticook workers also adhere to a set of principles originally developed at Toyota, according to Mike Peterson, chief administrative officer.

"The whole idea is, turning a staff into an army of people looking for problems to solve inevitably leads to solving a lot of problems," he said.

Alexander-Lane said that projects suggested by employees at the hospital have led to reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

Projects have reduced the cost of printing employee paycheck stubs, made it easier for employees to purchase food from the cafeteria, among other cost reductions.

Barry said a demand for accountability at Inland also reduced the number of cases in which labor was induced in women before 39 weeks of pregnancy, one measure used by Leapfrog.

"There's a lot of evidence that suggests that, for a standard, normal delivery, if you induce a patient before 39 weeks, there's a greater choice of poor outcomes for the babies," Barry said. "We had zero cases over the past year of inducing before 39 weeks."

(Continued on page 2)

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