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The Official Baldrige Blog

Leading for Innovation, Part 4: Insights from Memorial Hermann’s Malisha Patel

Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital Quest Innovation Plenary slide. Showing a funnel with different levels of pain points and unmet needs from across the org and how they filter them and the key principles they use for innovation.

Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital's Innovation Hub slide from its Quest for Excellence innovation presentation.

Credit: Memorial Herman Sugar Land Hospital

Five-Part Leadership Blog Series

Senior leaders of five recent Baldrige Award recipients representing diverse sectors of the U.S. economy—The Charter School of San Diego (CSSD)Elevations Credit UnionGuidehouse (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers Public Sector)Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, and Stellar Solutions--presented insights on how they guide their high-performing organizations to innovate at the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program’s 34th Quest for Excellence® conference in April 2023. Following are highlights of the presentation by Malisha Patel of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

Persistent Effort Gives Rise to Culture of Innovation

Malisha Patel, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, 2016 Baldrige Award Recipient
Malisha Patel, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, 2016 Baldrige Award Recipient
Credit: Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital

Formed by millions of years of water and wind erosion, the Antelope Canyon in Arizona is called by the Navajo “the place where water runs through.”

Malisha Patel, senior vice president and chief executive officer of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, shared an image of the canyon with the Baldrige Program's Quest for Excellence audience because it inspired her.

“The fact that continuous water could have an impact on rocks, one of the hardest substances on earth, and reform and reshape them, inspires me. . . . [Similarly] the fact that persistent effort could lead to seemingly insurmountable change truly inspired . . . our innovation efforts.”

Patel shared with the audience how the innovation efforts at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, a 2016 Baldrige Award recipient, helped the organization build a culture of innovation that led to innovations in medicine, processes, workforce models, big data, and the cost of care. Innovation has also led the Memorial Hermann system to refocus its vision “to create healthier communities now and for generations to come.”

“Work we have done with innovation has allowed us to have local, systemwide, and community impact,” said Patel, adding that Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, which opened as a 79-bed hospital, now has 179 beds and has recently been approved for a $231 million expansion.

“I truly believe that our culture of innovation [driven by] the Baldrige framework has really fueled our success,” she said. “What makes me even more proud is that we’re coming out of [the most difficult] point in our hospital’s journey. We dealt with a lot of challenges where we had to be innovative during the pandemic.” Patel said she is especially proud that the hospital has been recognized in the top percentile for employer and physician engagement during that time.

Where Innovation Comes In

A focus on improvement led to a culture of innovation at Memorial Hermann, Patel said, using this definition: “Innovation is creating opportunity to deliver value. Innovation is inclusive of initiatives and programs that make us better at our core business and at doing things differently to move care upstream to ultimately keep people out of the hospital.”

She said the culture of innovation began locally at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land when it started its Baldrige journey in 2009. Patients, employees, volunteers, physicians, and other stakeholders were asked what the hospital could do to eliminate inconveniences. This led to suggestion boxes throughout the hospital and a streamlined process for QR codes so that anyone could share an idea for an opportunity or challenge.

Those innovative efforts evolved, with every workforce member encouraged to help build a culture of innovation through idea sharing, she said. To facilitate this, iGenerate was created in 2016 as an innovation hub in which employees could submit ideas; to date, 13,000+ ideas have been submitted, 700+ have been implemented, and $10.5 million+ in cost savings have been generated.

iGenerate has helped the system support “an environment that allows people to rapidly look at macro trends impacting our industry,” she said.

Based on an employee idea, Patel shared a success story where supply chain issues made it difficult to obtain contrasting agent, which is used enhancing CT X-ray images. The employee suggested using syringeless injectors, which was validated and confirmed so as not to compromise quality. A new process based on the idea reduced the amount of contrast used on patients and helped improve patient outcomes, as well as eliminate injectors going into landfills.

Commitment to Excellence and the Community

The hospitals of the Memorial Hermann system “remain steadfast to deliver on our promise of value-based care, [because] we know that with persistence, dedication to our workforce, ingenuity, and innovation that we will succeed,” said Patel.

Memorial Hermann, the largest nonprofit health care system in the greater Houston area, has more than 6,700 affiliated physicians, 31,000 employee partners, 260 care delivery sites, and 17 hospitals, according to Patel. They share a mission to be “a nonprofit, values-driven, community-owned health system dedicated to improving health,” said Patel, adding that several years ago, the 115-year-old system changed its mission, vision, and values to reflect a commitment to the community.

Patel said Memorial Hermann hospitals are not just delivering care at brick-and-mortar locations but also have numerous efforts under way for “engaging in the community, addressing the social determinants of health, and improving the overall wellbeing of families and ultimately populations.”

As CEO of two of the largest hospitals in the Houston area, Patel said she’s sometimes asked why she would support a mission that keeps potential patients out of the hospital—"to keep business away.” Her answer:

“That’s why we innovated a few years ago,” she said. “We’re still here to take care of those seeking medical care, but we wanted to make sure we can prevent you from becoming sick in the first place.”

Partnerships have played a large role in supporting the community, she said; for example, in addressing health care access and convenience for patients by opening urgent care centers. Another partnership involved nutritional assessments and meal planning “because we know if we can help with social well-being and quality of life, it’s going to help your overall health,” she said.

Five-Part Leadership Blog Series

Previous Blogs
Leading for Innovation, Part 1: Insights from CSSD’s Mary Bixby
Leading for Innovation, Part 2: Insights from Elevations Credit Unions Gerry Agnes
Leading for Innovation, Part 3: Insights from Guidehouses Scott McIntyre

Upcoming Blogs
Leading for Innovation, Part 5: Insights from Stellar Systems Janet Grondin

2023-2024 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit cover artwork

Baldrige Excellence Framework®

The Baldrige Excellence Framework® has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence®, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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