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Published on August 24, 2021

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Creating a Culture of Excellence Takes Long-Term Commitment

High quality – it’s what health care providers want to deliver and what patients and their families expect. Yet health care is an extremely complex industry with many moving parts that must come together well for a quality experience – for every patient, every time.

The past year has been especially taxing for health care organizations on the front lines of fighting the pandemic: Caring for the sick – some of whom were deathly ill – while protecting their own employees, extremely high volumes, staffing challenges due to illness and quarantines, and shortages of critical supplies.

Awards Validate High Quality

In the midst of such a difficult year, Avera Health was named among the 15 Top Health Systems in the nation by IBM Watson Health. This is the second time Avera has been named to this prestigious list; previously in 2019.

IBM Watson Health also named Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center to the list of 100 Top Hospitals.

Five Avera hospitals earned 5-Star ratings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – Avera McKennan, Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen, Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls and Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton. Only 13% of the nation’s hospitals achieve 5 stars.

Avera also had several of its hospitals named on Top 100 lists for Rural & Community Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals.

“This year we are seeing some amazing validations of our quality – system-wide,” said Bob Sutton, President and CEO of Avera Health. “I’ve had CEOs of other health systems ask us – how do you do it? Especially in the year of the pandemic, when there are so many challenges in health care.”

A Long-Term Commitment to Quality

Sutton’s answer is this: There was no quick, magic bullet solution. Rather it’s the result of a long-term investment in and commitment to quality system-wide. “Quality isn’t anything new at Avera,” he said.

Creating this culture of excellence starts with the foundation of recruitment.

“It has so much to do with the way we approach recruitment and bring on team members who are also committed to the best possible outcomes. Simply put, we hire people who are a great fit for Avera. That’s where quality starts,” Sutton said.

Retaining those great team members is so important. Avera’s physician turnover rate is 4% and 21.6% of employees have worked at Avera for 15 years or longer. Those 3,407 employees with 15 or more years of service have completed over 31 million days of service.

It continues as people challenge one another to be the best. Avera’s quality team monitors care and reviews findings against national benchmarks. A systematic performance improvement approach helps refine processes.

Quality Improvement at the Front Lines

Quality care is a result of all caregivers,” said David Flicek, CEO and President of Avera McKennan. “Some of the best ideas for how to work better and smarter come from the front lines of care delivery.”

Organic quality improvement happens as Avera units and departments design and conduct their own quality improvement projects and measure benefits and outcomes. Avera shares ideas and best practices from these quality initiatives across the system.

Standardization helps ensure that the care received at one location is of equally high quality as another location. “Avera has 14 Service Lines that help ensure standardized care and evidence-based protocols are implemented across the system, no matter which location you walk into,” Flicek said.

The patient experience is a key component of quality. “For our patients, we know that great care is all about being treated with kindness and compassion. It’s about short wait times and knowing what to expect. It’s about keeping you comfortable. We work hard to train caregivers to treat people with the compassion and hospitality for which Avera is known. But for so many of them, this is who they are. It’s what attracts them to Avera,” Sutton said.

Finally, Avera considers quality to be everyone’s job. “We encourage employees to be highly engaged in what they can do. For example, if someone sees something that’s potentially wrong or unsafe, we want them to speak up. We empower staff at all levels to do what’s best for each patient,” Flicek added.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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