Highly Reliable Care: What Quality & Transformation Mean for Our Communities

This week’s announcement about the addition of Penn Highlands Tyrone to the Penn Highlands health system comes as encouraging news for Penn Highlands’ other five communities, as well—the areas of Brookville, Clearfield, DuBois, Elk County, and Huntingdon. “As Penn Highlands grows in size, increasing the quality of care across the system is an equally dedicated focus,” says chief quality & transformation officer, Istikram Qaderi, MD. “To put it simply, even as we increase our services comparably with larger health systems in Pennsylvania, our communities can feel confident that as Penn Highlands gets bigger, we also continue to get better.”

This commitment makes our communities fortunate compared to many other rural areas throughout the country, as a February 2020 Forbes report suggested that one in four rural hospitals are in danger of closing—and that was before healthcare organizations faced challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the Penn Highlands team has kept a steady hand on delivering high-quality care and improving residents’ access to it, even during what’s been a uniquely challenging year.

That’s one reason that in late October, Qaderi and the quality teams across Penn Highlands celebrated National Healthcare Quality Week, which holds a special focus at Penn Highlands. “When I joined Penn Highlands in 2018, right away we embarked to complete an assessment to understand where the areas and opportunities for improvement were,” Qaderi says. “From there, all levels of staff at every Penn Highlands facility participated in a joint process to create a framework and prioritize our strategic goals, which have become our six commitments to excellence.” While the commitments to growth and a sustainable business model are critical, they also go hand-in-hand with the other four commitments, which center on the Penn Highlands experience—namely, that of patients, as well as employees. “Our initiative focuses on safety excellence, both for patients and staff, as well as quality, service (known as patient experience), and people excellence—meaning our workforce-centered efforts to grow satisfaction and professional skill among staff to help support our mission to provide high-quality care to our communities.”

Qaderi explains this transformation journey is one of the health system’s keenest focuses, aiming to create a “culture of excellence” and become nationally recognized within the healthcare industry for being a high-quality and “highly reliable” organization. “That means we’re continually examining our data for what’s happening across our system to understand whether every process is working consistently every time, and where we have opportunities to improve,” Qaderi says.

Looking at 2020, this vigilance has yielded trends such as shorter wait times in Emergency Departments at Penn Highlands hospitals, improved patient access and flow, and optimized bed management, which has led to higher rates of patients staying within the Penn Highlands system for all stages of their care. The health system is also providing faster discharge processes for inpatients, and 33 percent fewer on-the-job injuries for staff. “It’s a lot of dedication from every part of our team,” Qaderi says, “but our data shows how our staff has risen to the occasion to improve our processes and standards and provide high-quality care. Seeing how hard staff have worked to ensure we meet the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines for COVID-19 while continuing to provide high-quality, high-touch care has been inspiring for our leaders.”

Thanks to all this hard work, Penn Highlands is on the map nationally. The Penn Highlands Elk Generations geriatric psychiatry unit recently won the national Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence award for performing at the top five percent of inpatient behavioral health organizations in the country, while the PH DuBois Emergency Department’s stroke response team recently won their fifth consecutive American Heart Association gold stroke response award (and the Penn Highlands Elk team won their first-ever silver award). These are just a few examples of how Penn Highlands’ metrics are exceeding national improvement rates. Qaderi is also one of 10 healthcare leaders from around the country serving on the employer advisory board for the National Association of Healthcare Quality in Chicago, representing the only rural hospital system in the country alongside colleagues from systems like Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and Case Western in Cleveland. “Penn Highlands is transforming patient safety at the regional level, and at the national level,” he says.

To learn more about Penn Highlands’ efforts to keep you and your family safe, visit www.phhealthcare.org/safecare.