Four new judges were appointed to the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award this year.
Following is an interview of Eric Fletcher, who is senior vice president of strategy, marketing, and business development for Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?
I was first exposed to Baldrige in 2004, when I worked at High Point Regional Health System in North Carolina. The CEO of the system at the time, Jeff Miller, had recently talked with the leadership team at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, a 2003 Baldrige Award recipient. The Baptist team’s strong endorsement of the Baldrige approach led Jeff to set High Point Regional on the Baldrige path, and he asked me to help lead that journey for the system. We wrote our first application in 2005 for the North Carolina Awards for Excellence program.
What an experience! The learning associated with wrestling with the Baldrige Criteria was immense, and writing that first application was probably the most difficult assignment of my career up to that point. Despite the difficulty, I was hooked. It was personally fulfilling to learn so much about designing and building systems to inspire high performance. I soon applied to be an examiner at both the state and national levels.
In my 13 years as a national examiner, I’ve continued to learn from other examiners and award applicant organizations. For me, it’s been the best professional development tool I could imagine. And now, I’m honored to be selected as a judge for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework (including the Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence) as valuable to organizations in your sector?
It’s hard not to chuckle at this question given that I’m in health care. My sector is in the midst of the greatest change probably since the inception of Medicare (and I could argue that our current state is even more volatile than that at the signing of the 1965 Social Security Act that authorized creation of the Medicare program). The way in which hospitals and physicians are being compensated for the care they provide is changing.
Historically, we were paid for performing an activity. In the future, we will be increasingly compensated based on the outcomes and health of the people we serve. Changing the fundamentals of the payment model in health care is dramatic and transformational.
How do you apply Baldrige principles or concepts in your current work within a health care organization?
I’ve worked at Mary Washington Healthcare, a two-hospital system in Virginia, for eight years now and am proud of the work we’ve done on our Baldrige journey. We have received the Achievement in Performance Excellence Award from SPQA-Virginia, the oldest Baldrige state program in the country.
Particularly important in our Baldrige journey has been the assessment of intelligent risk as we work to prepare for the increasing prevalence of new payment models. We’ve created an accountable care organization (Mary Washington Health Alliance), and we are having success in reducing the cost of care for the people of our region while improving the quality of care we provide. It’s inspiring work, and I think we all can agree the outcome is a good thing.
As a judge, what are your hopes for the judging process? In other words, as a judge, what would you like to tell applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants about the rigor of the process?
One of my favorite Baldrige-related quotes is from Sister Mary Jean Ryan of SSM Healthcare (who led that organization to earn the first Baldrige Award in health care in 2002): “You don’t know what you don’t know.” That incisive nugget has stuck with me for many years. As a new judge, I am learning and certainly don’t know everything about our judging process yet. However, I am already impressed with the knowledge and caliber of my fellow judges and with the judging process itself.
From my years of experience in many Baldrige roles—those of award applicant, examiner, evaluation team leader, examiner trainer, state program board member, etc.—I know that award applicants are getting a great value in their Baldrige feedback reports. The journey to excellence is tough, but so are most things that are worth doing.
What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners for their work in evaluating organizations as part of the Baldrige Award process?
As our wise, former U.S. president Ronald Reagan once said, “There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder." Never forget that your work as an examiner provides a great service to American organizations in pursuit of performance excellence. Your intelligence, commitment, diligence, and insightfulness help organizations get better and, by extension, make our nation stronger. Thank you for your service.