NMHS claims Baldrige: National quality award marks deep commitment

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

BALTIMORE – The 60-strong North Mississippi Health Services delegation staked their claim Monday on the nation’s highest honor for business.
They cheered and rattled blue and white clappers for the 6,000-plus back home as chief executive John Heer and former board president Bobby Martin formally accepted the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award at the Quest for Excellence annual conference in Baltimore.
“I’m honored and humbled to stand before you to accept this award on behalf of 6,200 employees, 500 physicians, 200 volunteers and board members,” Heer said. “It exemplifies the compassion, care and, yes, even love, for the people we take care of.”
The performance excellence award, sometimes called the Nobel Prize for American business, represents an intense commitment to quality improvement sustained throughout the system’s six hospitals, 31 clinics and four nursing homes and verified by national examiners.
“North Mississippi Health Services is making new strides to get rural citizens the health care they need,” said President Barack Obama in taped remarks saluting each of the four 2012 winners, which also included Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control of Grand Prairie, Texas; Mesa Products of Tulsa, Okla.; and the City of Irving, Texas. Only 93 have been awarded since Congress created the program in 1988.
The coveted crystal trophy will join the one claimed by the system’s flagship hospital, North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo in 2006, but the hospitals in Iuka, West Point, Pontotoc, Eupora and Hamilton, Ala., along with clinics and nursing homes, will each get a marble trophy to mark their part of the Baldrige win.
“It means (we have) the ability to sustain excellence and high levels of quality even in difficult times,” said James Hahn, administrator for NMMC-West Point.
At a Sunday night gala, former President Bill Clinton saluted the four winning organizations and the 25th anniversary of the Baldrige National Quality Award.
“You represent the best,” Clinton said via video. “Congratulations, thank you and keep up the good work.”
The real winners of the Baldrige award are the families and communities served by North Mississippi Health Services, said Heer, noting their mission extends beyond the walls of hospitals and clinics into schools, workplaces, churches and homes.
“We encounter challenges along the way, but our commitment never waivers,” Heer said. “They expect, and deserve, all our best.”
Other members of the NMHS delegation said they view the Baldrige as both a reward for past efforts and a motivator to continually improve.
“It’s a great source of pride. … It shows we have a lot of compassion for our patients and that we’ve worked hard,” said Pat Herring, registered nurse at NMMC Women’s Hospital.
Added Dr. Alan Pritchard, a Tupelo plastic surgeon: “Because of Baldrige, doctors are getting more involved. … The hospital is more transparent. I think the quality has improved. When I leave the hospital, I know my patients are going to be taken care of.”
Octavius Ivy, administrator for clinical and support services, was also a part of the 2006 Baldrige winning NMMC-Tupelo team.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be here again,” Ivy said, “and to be a part of a group of individuals who are focusing on continuously improving.”
michaela.morris@journalinc.com