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How a Desert Hospital Closed the Gap Between Quality Scores and Employee Perceptions
Yuma Regional Medical Center marketers faced a disconnect between team members and its data, and needed to get creative to close the gap

Yuma Regional Medical Center was seeing its quality scores climb amid encouragement from a new CEO who wanted billboards broadcasting such wins. Yet as marketers moved to amplify this message, they discovered a disconnect among team members.

Lengths of stay were dropping, as were health care-associated infections, while online reputation metrics sparkled. And on visits, “accreditation surveyors such as DNV-GL and the Commission on Cancer raved,” recalled Machele Headington, vice president of marketing for the 406-bed Arizona nonprofit.

As she and other leaders visited the front lines, workers told a different tale. “We were faced with a perception from our employees that quality just wasn’t hitting the mark,” Headington said. “They didn’t feel as if they were making a difference. We clearly had a disconnect.”

Employee surveys revealed further rifts and Press Ganey scores denoting whether Yuma Regional Medical Center was providing “high quality care and service” were falling well below the national average. Headington and colleagues knew they needed to work on employee engagement before even thinking about launching a marketing campaign.

“There was no way we could take this information out to consumers unless we had a belief internally that we were doing great things for our patients,” she said. “If we didn’t believe in ourselves, we couldn’t buy a billboard big enough to convince the community that we were great.” 

Boots on the Ground
Within four days, Director of Marketing Shay Andres and colleagues assembled a “boots-on-the-ground” team with human resources and other departments. They divided and conquered, trying to hit every location across the 2,400-employee enterprise — clinics, environmental services, labs, information technology and nutrition — to gather feedback. The primary ask was: “What do high-quality care and service look like to you?”

The conversations formed a much broader picture, stretching well beyond inpatient C. difficile rates or door-to-balloon times. A “warm smile,” “empathetic ear” and “knowing that you did your very best” were just a few of the phrases that bubbled to the surface.

“It really wasn’t the clinical side of quality that most of our employees were referencing,” Andres said. “It was the patient experience side — compassion and empathy — things that we could easily acknowledge and visibly bring to the forefront of their minds.”

From there, Yuma Regional Medical Center marketers started planning their path, striving toward inclusion, meeting team members where they were, leveraging wins and creating purpose. Most importantly, Headington said employees wanted to believe that their work mattered. She listed four ingredients in their recipe for success:

  • Instill a consistent brand message throughout the organization.
  • Create ways for people to see it for themselves through stories, imagery, etc.
  • Grab people’s attention with elements of surprise and emotion.
  • Make it fun along the way.

Yuma Medical Center marketers wanted to distill all of this into a message that every employee, from executive to physician, food service and reception, could get behind. They landed on: “We believe quality is an ongoing commitment to always improving.”

“We really needed to pack a lot of meaning into a small message and it needed to allow for personalization,” Headington said. 

Now Comes the Fun
Since then, the hospital has waged a years-long campaign to instill this message among its workforce and do so in a fun and meaningful way. Yuma Regional Medical Center initiated a series of monthly activities designed to actively engage employees in recognizing that quality was already happening all around them. 

They started with small orange boxes to pass out to others called the “Q it forward” kit that allowed leaders to recognize someone for providing great quality. Each recipient received a second box to “Q it forward” to someone else. People loved the opportunity to recognize someone else. October was focused on flu inoculations, where employees could receive a badge or signage saying, “I got my shot.” They held a lemonade stand for those who had an “unquenchable thirst for quality,” handing out mugs filled with coffee coupons and the opportunity to again “Q it forward” to recognize others. Employees were encouraged to bestow these tokens of appreciation outside of their division to encourage cross-departmental collaboration and recognition.

“While these small activities may feel a bit insignificant, it was part of a much larger strategy to engage staff to recognize the connection between quality care and the patient experience,” Andres said. “Staff loved the opportunity to have fun and our employee Facebook page just started blowing up with examples of how our staff was interpreting their daily work to quality care.”

December featured a “we believe in quality” Christmas tree, where each department created its own ornament, symbolizing how that team contributed to quality. During Innovation Day, they held a Shark Tank event to unearth further ideas for improvement and created a “quality hall of fame,” honoring forerunners in the categories of clinical care, operations, patient experience and sustainability. Teams assembled “quality puzzles” that challenged them to scavenge for pieces throughout the organization. One participant even went as far as driving 12 miles to connect with a coworker at a far-flung clinic who possessed a missing piece.

Continuous improvement activities have soared throughout the institution, as Yuma Regional Medical Center completed 661 such projects in the 2020 fiscal year. The work appears to be paying off, with patient and employee engagement scores continuing to climb. Results from the next year’s Press Ganey employee survey reflected increased scores in all 11 key engagement questions asked. Infused with this newfound organization-wide confidence, they’ve been extending their public marketing campaigns to kick off the 2021 fiscal year, sticking to the core message of “we believe” from early on in the process.

“It really was a collective effort around making sure that every person felt proud to be here and that they understood how they fit,” Headington said.

This article features interviews with:

Shay Andres
Director of Marketing
Yuma Regional Medical Center
Yuma, Arizona 

Machele Headington
Vice President, Marketing & Support Services
Yuma Regional Medical Center
Yuma, Arizona


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