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The Official Baldrige Blog

A Hospital, a Hurricane, and “This Crazy Thing Called Baldrige”

The consequences of Hurricane Harvey showing a flooded park with downtown Houston in the background.
Credit: IrinaK/Shutterstock

When Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital earned the Baldrige Award in 2016, it boasted results such as

  • Top 10 percent ranking nationally for emergency center arrival-to-discharge time, compliance with regulations to reduce medication errors, bed turnaround times, radiology and laboratory result turnaround times, and use of computerized physician order entry
  • Workforce retention rates of 90 percent for employee partners, 100 percent for physician partners, and 90 percent for volunteer partners, all of which were comparable to or exceeded national benchmarks that year
  • Highly favorable patient ratings—in the 90th percentile of Press Ganey comparison data—indicating customers were especially “likely to recommend” the hospital’s day surgery, emergency care, gynecology, orthopedics, and women’s health services and departments
  • Three-year operating earnings (before interest, depreciation, and amortization) that exceeded Standard and Poor’s (S&P) national median for “AA”-rated nonprofit hospitals, plus an operating margin that met or exceeded the S&P benchmarks for the same group for four years

The community hospital southwest of Houston, Texas, continues to excel today. Last year, its focus on “bringing together quality, safety, and a family-caring-for-family approach”—complemented by use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework—guided its responses to a severe and unexpected challenge: the severe Hurricane Harvey and subsequent flooding of Houston and adjoining areas.  

At the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® conference in April, Efrain Solis, a senior project manager for Memorial Hermann Sugar Land, will present on his organization’s best practices for addressing such disasters. Solis said he’ll lead a “tour of our processes” that helped the hospital address “the 1,000-year flooding event created in the path of Hurricane Harvey.” His aim is to share “how the elements of the Baldrige Excellence Framework can ensure that you are ready to face any storm (literal or figurative) that arrives at your doorstep.”

Reflecting on the devastating 2017 hurricane season, Solis said recently, “There were many acts of heroism, and some lessons we can impart upon those who attend the Quest for Excellence session.” Although other hospitals have well-established plans for managing extreme weather and other natural disasters, he added, what may be exceptional about Memorial Hermann Sugar Land was that “we wrapped our response around the Baldrige framework and focused on our core competencies and values.” Thus, making the tough decision to evacuate the hospital after Hurricane Harvey was not as tough, he said, noting that it aligned with patient safety, a core competency for the hospital.

In our recent exchange, Solis also responded to a few more questions about the Baldrige framework. As shared below, he highlighted his experiences of learning and giving back within the community of organizations pursuing excellence.

Efrain Solis
Senior Project Manager
Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital

What do you view as key reasons or ways that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?

I often hear this from people who are trying to convince their peers or superiors why they should start a Baldrige journey; it tends to be a question that’s invariably coupled with some level of concern related to the energy and resources you’ll need to spend on this.

My short answer: it’s the right way to run a business. Think about it like this: if you can’t answer the Criteria questions, you may have some gaps in your work, those differences may be hidden by people who are working extra hard for you to ensure everything is as it should be. Imagine if those overachievers leave, then what? The framework will ask you the questions that will free up talent that is spent putting out fires, refocusing and repurposing them to achieving your vision and mission, and who wouldn’t want that?

What is your “elevator pitch” about the Baldrige framework and/or assessment approach? In other words, what would you say to a group of senior leaders in your sector who are unfamiliar with the Baldrige framework if you had 1-2 minutes to tell them something about it?

Imagine that 100 years from now, someone is going write a book about the work you did with your time here; it will either be a case for how to do it right or a case study for what went wrong. You probably don’t need to think too hard to know what side of history you’d like to land on. Now imagine you had a framework that would not only ensure your legacy will outlive you but also would differentiate you from your competitors, ensure that your customers are loyal, and ensure that employees become lifelong advocates. I’m not selling a gimmick or a random act of improvement. In fact, I’m not selling anything—just asking you to consider the Baldrige way. So you tell me: what’s your book going to be called, and what will it say about you? Remember the moments are long, but the years are short, so in the immortal words of Paulo Coelho, “One Day, or Day One? You Decide.”

Similarly, what would you say to a group of college students (particularly those pursuing studies for a profession related to your sector) about the Baldrige framework?

I speak about the Baldrige framework every term as an adjunct professor in addition to doing so in annual talks with high school students and those in a few graduate programs. What’s often missing from the perspectives of graduates of any program is balance, a way to view the world outside of whatever they’ve hyper-focused on over the time in their programs.

What I tell them is that Baldrige gives you a window into systems thinking that comes from a focus on integration and values, a perspective that usually takes years to gain. It’s also a reminder never to be complacent because a learning culture starts with you, and you shouldn’t let a day pass without trying to learn something new. Baldrige will challenge you to do this systematically.

What are your top tips for introducing or sustaining use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework (including the Criteria for Performance Excellence) to promote an organization’s success?

  1. Embrace the question “Why would you do this crazy thing called Baldrige?” If your answer is merely “to win the award,” … stop and look for a new hobby. A Baldrige quest for excellence is not for the faint of heart and certainly not for those looking solely for a shiny trophy. By reflecting on why, you can dig into what most people are interested in: doing their best work and proving exceptional quality to their customers and employees.
  2. Immerse yourself in Baldrige. If you can, come to a Baldrige conference, soak in the culture of those organizations that have won a Baldrige Award, are in the thick of an improvement journey, or are just starting out. You’ll be around a community of leaders like no other who are wholly committed … to helping everyone become better at whatever they do.
  3. Become an examiner. In doing this, you will achieve a much deeper understanding of the Baldrige Criteria, make some lifelong relationships, and return to your organization empowered with a focus on processes, results, learning, and innovation that will make you better at what you do in every way.

What were your thoughts and “aha” moments as you began learning about the Baldrige framework?

My initial thoughts were excitement about the path ahead, and the learning to this day has been exponential. My first “aha” moment was when I did the Quality Texas Foundation’s examiner training; it expanded my perspective seeing what examiners on the other side of the table saw in my organization’s Baldrige Award applications. It opened my eyes to the evaluation process and how to ask the right questions … to propel lasting improvement. Site visits (during my organization’s participation in the annual Baldrige Award process) were terrific moments as well, to help my team prepare and share our story with the excellent examiners that came to Sugar Land.

Given what you’ve learned from applying the Baldrige framework in your work at your organization, are there ways you’ve also applied this in your personal life?

Among the numerous benefits, the one I focus on the most is the personalization of Baldrige. If you can think about your own core competencies and vision, you can lay a path that will not only make you successful but also differentiate you in ways you can’t imagine.

It’s a starting place I take everyone I interact with; it’s helped small organizations reimagine who they are and consider who they want to be, to think bigger and bolder about how to set themselves apart. It’s also helped me recraft my personal vision: “To positively affect the lives of a billion people.” I’m not there yet, but I’ve been able to help several organizations around the country and my church. It’s incredibly rewarding to give back.

How has your perception of the Baldrige community changed since your organization became a Baldrige Award recipient? Have you received any particularly interesting calls from others asking you to share or benchmark with their organizations?

One of the things that I love the most about Baldrige is the community! I’ve never seen so many exceptionally talented people willing to share and help others improve like this one. … my perception has undoubtedly been enhanced [by] working with others who are on the Journey.

I feel, as so many others do, a deep sense of obligation to give back in the same way others have given back to me. I spend hours on the phone talking to people who’ve come to our [best-practice] sharing days, or who’ve invited me to speak. … For those interactions, I spend time doing careful planning to make sure I’m giving them as much insight as I can to put them on a path to success. Of course, in my health system, I’m helping by sharing our path, helping others start, and being a resource to those in need in whatever way I can.


Baldrige 30th Anniversary Logo artwork

Quest for Excellence® Conference

BALTIMORE | April 8–11, 2018
Join us for the 30th Anniversary Quest for Excellence Conference showcasing the best practices of the 2017 Baldrige Award recipients!


Sunday, April 8
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Dinner honoring the 2017 recipients.

Register Now | Book Your Hotel Room


About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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