United in purpose

By Dr. Gillian Kernaghan

Building success is hard enough, but how do organizations sustain success in the long run?

This is a question St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and countless other health care organizations, have been contemplating for decades. In a health care setting, success is defined by many things but patient satisfaction should always be at the forefront.

I was delighted this fall when our organization once again received “Exemplary Standing” from Accreditation Canada. This marks the third time straight for St. Joseph’s, which extends our exemplary standing to a remarkable 12 years – a feat only made possible by sustaining excellence.

Reaching a target is only the first step in creating lasting change. Sustaining that change requires much more. It takes endurance, effort and the ability to look past the initial goal. It takes commitment to new processes, approaches and ongoing refinement.

Imagine if health care was a sport. Focusing only on the scoreboard wouldn’t result in consistent wins. It takes every day improvement by concentrating on teamwork, discipline, planning, and practice to ensure ongoing progress. It would require understanding that ultimate victory comes with continuous long-lasting improvement.

Achieving an exemplary standing “three-peat,” has provided the opportunity to reflect on St. Joseph’s history in setting aggressive targets, working hard to achieve them, and equally as hard to sustain them.

How can we do better tomorrow?

So how can organizations sustain success, change and outcomes? I believe it starts with accountability and the core values of an organization. Is your corporate culture one of “always”? Always asking ‘how can we do this better tomorrow?’ Always striving to improve. It’s not just about setting goals – but setting progressively aggressive goals.

As a CEO, or as a head coach if we go back to the sports analogy, I have to set the playing field for success. It’s my job to inspire and establish the shared vision of our organization, making sure the mission and values are embedded in our work. The mission, vision and values then drive our corporate culture, and leaders transform that culture into practice and performance.

In setting ambitious goals it’s imperative to be transparent. As leaders we need to walk the talk. With leaders setting the example of excellence and holding teams accountable, the result is quality performance.

Strategic goals and metrics

At. St. Joseph’s, three-year aspirational goals and metrics are established. These goals become our compass, setting the direction for the organization. The metrics focus on several areas, including:

  • Partnerships and engagement
  • Academic achievements
  • Patient experience and outcomes
  • Quality and safety
  • Staff, physician, volunteer and family engagement

Every year corporate goals and targets are established and are included on a corporate scorecard. These targets are increased each year until they reach a sustainable goal. Once the ultimate goal has been achieved we keep it on our corporate score card for four quarters and watch it for another year to ensure it is hardwired in the organization. If it degrades we discover why, and if required bring it back on as a corporate priority. We never lose sight of it until it is firmly rooted in the work we do.

United in purpose

When the vision and mission are clear, there is understanding in why we do what we do. I can say without a doubt that staff, physicians and volunteers at St. Joseph’s understand and live our vision to “Earn complete confidence in the care we provide and make a lasting difference in the quest to live fully”. During our accreditation process the surveyors noted that St. Joseph’s is “an organization united in purpose.” They could see tangible evidence of our focus on every patient/every encounter/every time, and that we don’t compromise on quality and safety – a key principal in our strategic plan.

Part of being united in purpose is our work with others. This is a key to success and necessary in sustaining any goal in health care. Our endless aim of earning the complete confidence of our patients can only be achieved through collaboration with our partners, patients and families. Their unique perspectives are invaluable in shared decision making.

The Premier’s Council’s report, A Healthy Ontario: Building a Sustainable Health Care System recognizes the need to focus on putting patients at the centre of their care and supporting them through all interactions. It’s clearly recognized that listening to patients, families and partners is vital to the sustained success of health care delivery.

We are in this together

An exemplary standing “three-peat” is a testament to the tremendous dedication of our staff, physicians and volunteers. I also believe strongly that we must reach beyond our walls to sustain success. We have a responsibly to contribute to system-wide success, and the advancement of the health care system as a whole.

What health care organizations are doing right should to be shared on a provincial level. We can be successful together, within our own organizations and regions and as part of the broader health care system, through transparent goals that are values-driven, leveraging leadership excellence, and focusing on progression – not just today’s achievement. When this is realized, the scoreboard becomes simply a number and continually striving for excellence becomes the end game.

Dr. Gillian Kernaghan is President and CEO at St. Joseph’s Health Care London.