RETAG - Transforming KP

Lead From Where You Stand

Helping teams make sense of their data

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When it comes to metrics, even the best teams can get muddled.

At such times, a good team realizes it needs help—that it’s time to ask for assistance from someone with specialized skills. In the Northwest region, teams can turn to Ed Vrooman.

His enviable strength? An ability to crunch numbers, connect the dots and break down the complexity of the data so that unit-based teams get the information they need to do their work.

“It’s easy for teams to fall into analysis paralysis, where they dissect every data point. I work with them to know the why and the what,” says Vrooman, who started as a part-time phlebotomist 18 years ago at Portland’s now-long-gone Bess Kaiser Hospital. Today, he does double duty as a union partnership representative (UPR) for the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions—he’s a member of SEIU Local 49—and as an improvement advisor.

A broad perspective

His atypical career path has given him an unusual outlook. In 2003, Vrooman took an extended leave of absence to work for Local 49, helping organize KP employees and other health care workers. After returning to KP, he became a labor partner and brought the coalition’s interests to the building of the new Westside hospital and other major regional projects.

“Partnership has allowed me to touch nearly every function within this organization,” Vrooman says. Working on the large initiatives got him more intrigued with the data side of the house—and led to his current position, which gives him an opportunity to use his skill with data and analytics. 

When he heard from the region’s UBT consultants that teams didn’t have the data they needed to work on projects, Vrooman became—along with the data analytics department and health plan leaders—a driving force in the creation of the region’s scorecards for teams. The STATIT scorecards (named after the electronic system that hosts them) enable teams to see their goals online and how they line up with the regional and PSP goals.

Co-leads’ gathering

Every year, Vrooman, along with the other two UPRs in the region—Bruce Corkum, RN, an OFNHP/ONA member, and Mariah Rouse of UFCW Local 555—present information on regional goals and budgets in one of the quarterly Steward Councils, which bring together the region’s UBT union co-leads and representatives from its four partnership unions. For the meeting on regional goals, the management co-leads are invited as well, providing a chance for team leaders to learn together how their teams can have an impact.

When he’s working directly with a team, Vrooman mentors and coaches its members on using improvement tools, from understanding the fundamentals such as SMART goals and entering projects into UBT Tracker to more advanced tools like process mapping. He asks his team members what they need to be successful.

“You don’t need a title to be a leader,” Vrooman tells them. “You lead from where you stand.”

Need an Idea? Borrow One!

Labor Day, LMP Style

The partnership’s top leaders reflect on the value of our approach

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While many people prepare to relax and celebrate the upcoming Labor Day holiday, thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees like you will be hard at work. Laboratory technicians will be analyzing samples and posting results to enable timely diagnoses for anxious patients. EVS workers will be carefully wiping door handles and counters at our hospitals to help prevent the spread of infection.

Together, you—members of locals in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, managers, physicians and other professional staff—all keep us well. And thanks to our Labor Management Partnership, we can speak up and listen to one another’s ideas. This cooperative approach leads to solutions and has the power to heal the nation’s health care system.

The news is quick to feature innovation that’s sparked by 20-somethings at start-ups or MBAs with impressive titles. But we are proving that innovation in health also comes from frontline employees—especially when we join together to solve problems. This is what Labor Day is really about: recognizing and valuing the contributions of workers.

Frontline teams driving improvement

Thanks to more than 3,500 unit-based teams, co-led by union members and their managers, we are tackling issues from shortening patients’ time in the waiting room to improving blood pressure rates in low-income communities. You can probably think of many examples from your own UBT. Here’s one we love to tell people about: The team at the neonatal intensive care unit of our Downey Medical Center in Southern California invited parents to join an advisory group. They made improvements such as installing video cameras so parents could see their children from home and providing a place to store mothers’ breast milk. “They helped us change a lot of things on our unit for the better,” says team member Marnie Morales, RN, who’s represented by United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, an affiliate of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

UBTs ensure that frontline employees, managers and physicians work together to improve quality, service and affordability in their departments. They didn’t simply materialize out of thin air. They are enshrined in our National Agreement. If you are a KP employee who is a member of one of our coalition unions, you have likely already voted on ratification of our most recent national agreement, which is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1. You are part of a notable historical moment. That agreement is this year’s largest private-sector contract in the United States.

A national model

As with all of our National Agreements, this one goes beyond providing excellent wages and benefits. In addition to UBTs, it provides for top-notch training and education to prepare people for future changes in health care. This kind of mutual respect is bringing success to the organization and increasing job satisfaction, translating to some of the lowest hospital employee turnover rates in the industry. It’s a successful model that we encourage other health care organizations and unions to follow.

After 18 years, we know that partnership works. Kaiser Permanente’s quality and service scores are higher than ever, and the organization and unions are both healthy and growing. When employees have the power to improve practices—not just influence, but real power—and when managers and employees solve problems together, it’s a winning solution. You might even say that in the LMP, every day is Labor Day.

Dennis Dabney is the senior vice president, Kaiser Permanente National Labor Relations and Office of Labor Management Partnership. Hal Ruddick is the executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, AFL-CIO. Jim Pruitt is vice president, LMP and Labor Relations, The Permanente Federation. Together, the three provide leadership to the LMP.


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