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Partnership Proves Its Value

San Diego and San Rafael featured in national study of health care workplaces

Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership has shown other health care organizations a way to improve patient care, affordability and the work environment, according to a new study by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

KP’s San Diego and San Rafael medical centers are featured in case studies of the Cornell report, “How Labor-Management Partnerships Improve Patient Care, Cost Control and Labor Relations.

The national study, which included Montefiore Medical Center’s Care Management Corp. in New York and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont, concluded that labor partnerships helped their organizations develop “innovative ways to improve the quality of the services that they provide while simultaneously controlling costs.”

Examples of success

The report identified results across all systems in four areas: clinical processes, the work environment, labor relations and cost savings. Examples from San Diego Medical Center included an improvement in the percentage of home care patients seen within 24 hours—to 83 percent in November 2010 from 44 percent in January 2010.

San Rafael’s clinical lab was cited for achieving a 45-minute turnaround in its stroke alert tests, zero workplace injuries reported in 2010 (and just two in the first five months of 2011); and a $51,000 reduction in backfill costs in just one department.

“An effective labor-management partnership can have a considerable impact on the expenditures of a single unit and the bottom line of an entire healthcare organization,” the report noted.

Embracing a standard practice

The researchers also lauded both KP facilities for their “embrace of partnership as ‘the way things work’ at all levels of the organization.” Such frontline collaboration is essential in implementing and sustaining change in complex systems, they noted.

The study also lists eight best practices to support partnership. These include having strong union and management leadership, a clear partnership structure and well-defined goals.

“This study reflects our experiences across Kaiser Permanente,” said Barbara Grimm, senior vice president, Office of Labor Management Partnership. “As the Labor Management Partnership has developed, our frontline managers, staff and physicians have taken on significant improvement projects in areas like quality, service and affordability that enhance care and outcomes for our members and patients. In the process we are co-creating the best place to work in the health care industry.”

A model for others

John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, said, “The results we are getting in partnership really set Kaiser Permanente apart from other organizations anywhere in this country. And these results transcend the work of individual teams. They are part of a bigger cultural change that is spreading learning, best practices and new ways of working together across KP.”

The Cornell researchers confirm the impact the partnership is having. “Reforming our health care system to be accessible and provide high-quality services has been at the core of many recent national and state initiatives,” said Peter Lazes, director of Cornell’s Healthcare Transformation Project and lead researcher in the study. “Kaiser Permanente’s union-management partnership shows how health care quality and costs can be improved through collaboration.”

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