Stymied by budget cuts, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has abandoned its effort to create a quality award for healthcare and education, at least for this year.
The agency, which administers the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for the Commerce Department, had been working for several years on expanding the range of possible award winners.
Now, the award categories include manufacturing, service and small business. Under present rules, a for-profit healthcare organization could submit an application under the service category. But not-for-profit hospitals or educational institutions are ineligible.
In 1995, NIST ran a pilot program for healthcare and education. It was handled as a dress rehearsal, said Jan Kosko, agency spokeswoman. "We wanted to see where organizations stood at this point, their readiness for a full-scale award, to find out whether the criteria work, whether people were able to submit applications."
NIST received 46 applications from healthcare organizations (including hospitals in California, Maryland and Pennsylvania and Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s Ambulatory Surgery Division) and 19 from educational organizations. Curt Reimann, director of the Baldrige program, said: "This relatively large number of applications for a pilot program with no actual award to be earned tells us that interest is even higher than we had anticipated."
The applications were reviewed by outside experts. Some organizations were chosen for site visits, in which teams of examiners tour the facility, talk to employees and review quality data.
"As with our business applications, every organization that applied got a feedback report from the examiners that looked at the application, pointed out strengths and areas that needed to be improved," Kosko said.
The proposed congressional appropriation for fiscal 1996 does not include funding to continue the pilot program. NIST is still trying to locate a private source of funding in the healthcare and education communities.
"Hopefully, at some point some organization or person will volunteer to start a fund" similar to the $10 million that supports the business award, Kosko said.
The goal of the quality awards program is to promote the importance of quality improvement, recognize quality achievements of U.S. companies and to publicize those companies' successful quality strategies.