When ABC's "Prime Time Live" news program recently contacted Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., to do a story on a double lung transplant operation, we realized we had a rare opportunity. The high-profile story stemmed from the shooting of three children in Paducah, Ky. One of the victims had donated her organs, and the transplant was to be done at Jewish Hospital.
Even though the idea behind the program was laudable-showing that a bad situation could have some positive results-we knew that participating with a national broadcast was a risk. The journalist could have looked for a different, perhaps even negative, angle and pursued it.
But we believed the program would give us a powerful platform to encourage organ donation, an issue very important to our corporate values. Reviewing those values made it easy to decide to cooperate with the program as fully as good judgment allowed. Fortunately, the program turned out to be a positive experience.
Most healthcare organizations have a corporate values statement. But there has never been a more critical time for us as healthcare professionals to pick up that dusty document, which may have been the result of a rhetorical exercise, and put it squarely in the middle of everything we do.
The recent misconduct of a handful of healthcare organizations and the subsequent media coverage threaten to taint the entire industry unfairly. The public, whom we serve and for whom we exist, must be confident that our overriding mission is to heal, not to harbor an insatiable demand for profits.
It is easy to understand why the public has become cynical about healthcare, considering the complexities pervading the industry. Hospital organizations must navigate business interests, insurance company policies, physician practices, patient safety, political pressures, labor issues, and the need for continued, substantial reinvestment in research, education and capital expenditures. All these legitimate, yet often divergent, interests make hospitals the battlegrounds at which struggles for balance occur.
A victim in these battles has been the public's confidence in healthcare organizations. People wonder whether they can trust "the system" to look out for their personal best interest and offer them high-quality care. We cannot undermine that trust any further; it is our most precious and irreplaceable commodity.
One way to reassure those who may question our motives is to communicate corporate values.
At its best, a corporate values statement is not an ideal toward which an organization works. Rather, it reflects the most basic parameters that define the organization's mission. The Jewish Hospital HealthCare System's corporate values statement articulates the beliefs on which we were founded and the culture that has defined us for 100 years. We use it to remind ourselves of our basic mission and corporate personality.
We developed the specific language through a process designed and implemented by our board of trustees. That process gave every member of the Jewish Hospital family a chance to express what he or she believed was important to the organization at the most basic level. We held employee and management focus groups. We met with our corporate officers. We surveyed the physicians who practice in our system.
Throughout the process, our primary goal was to find the words that best describe the core values that have focused us on our mission through decades of radical change. The process was made easier because at every level, we heard the same values repeated.
These values must be more than just words on a piece of paper; they must be applicable to every action at every level of the organization. When that happens, corporate values statements make administrators' jobs easier, because they help us make difficult management decisions.
Our statement includes the following values:
Research-We recently made a huge investment in the country's first freestanding cardiac research facility funded by a private hospital. Our role as the surgery hospital for the University of Louisville Medical School increases our opportunities to participate in research. We are involved in nearly 100 clinical trials and research projects.
We encourage physicians to apply for grants to fund innovative research projects. Since 1994 our Medical Research Grant Program has funded 60 peer-reviewed grants totaling $2.5 million.
Entrepreneurship-We pioneer such medical innovations as minimally invasive surgeries, because innovation advances standards. With the eighth-largest cardiac center and the 27th-largest organ transplant center in the U.S., we have dozens of medical firsts in our history, and we expect to be the site of the world's first total hand transplant later this year.
Community service-This value led us to provide more than $10 million in charitable services last year. Our system operates five "health lifestyle centers" around the Louisville area, offering various free services and screenings. We also are consistently among the top 10 contributors to Metro United Way, and last year we gave more money to the arts than any other U.S. hospital.
Leadership-We see this as a responsibility as much as an opportunity. When possible, we share our experiences with other providers to mentor them and improve the overall quality of healthcare.
Excellence-This is an obvious value, but we have backed it with resources, such as research funding. Because of that commitment, our physicians rank Jewish Hospital first among local hospitals in 10 categories, from highest-quality hospital to most responsive administration. We survey the physicians on our medical staff and the public every couple of years to find out how we're doing with them.
No doubt, every hospital organization can point to specific, isolated examples of success. We have learned, however, that high quality and sustained growth are based on more than just random good fortune. They require dedication to unwavering values-not to cost-cutting and the bottom line.
This may seem contrary to today's climate, but our system knows from experience that constant efforts to improve quality and increase services work over the long term.
All of us who feel strongly about a values-based approach to healthcare are responsible for communicating our philosophy. The public is eager for reassurance that we exist primarily to heal, not to make a profit.
Wagner is president and chief executive officer of Jewish Hospital HealthCare Services, Louisville, Ky.