Do the Right Thing

Molly Rowe, Senior Editor, Leadership , October 26, 2007

I spend a lot of time talking to healthcare leaders who expect and enforce excellence. They implement new patient safety initiatives, force staff accountability, and are upfront about outcomes, patient satisfaction, and even executive salaries. Occasionally I take for granted that all leaders--and all organizations--are like this. And then I am reminded that they're not.

Two weeks ago, I got one of these reminders. My parents live on the coast of Maine. While the lobsters are plentiful, the healthcare options are limited. The closest hospital is a critical-access hospital 30 minutes away. While it's sufficient for basic care like splinter-removal and flu-diagnosing, I wouldn't entrust them with my life. So, when I got a call that my ailing great uncle had been admitted there with stroke symptoms, I was concerned.

I won't bore you with the details of poor care and bad communication, but he died a week later. I certainly wouldn't blame his death on the hospital--he was 90 after all and lived a full, remarkable life--but I also wouldn't say the facility made his last days (or the days of his wife and family members) any easier.

Ironically, I got the news of my uncle's illness while I was in Chicago, attending the Top Leadership Teams Conference. The conference, as I've mentioned before, includes presentations by more than 40 of the top leaders in healthcare from some of the most successful and progressive organizations in the U.S. Their success stories were juxtaposed with discouraging hourly updates from Maine.

We need to hear the stories of bad care and poor leadership lest we forget to appreciate the good ones. Large systems sometimes get the bulk of the recognition, but rural and community facilities are often the more remarkable story. These are the organizations--hospitals like Cary Medical Center in Caribou, Maine, a TLT panelist, or Wright Medical Center, a TLT winner and critical access hospital in Iowa--that do things right only because it's the right thing to do--not because competition, patient satisfaction scores, or regulatory pressure forces them.

All CEOs tell me that they care about quality and patient satisfaction because patients come first--and I truly believe they do--but I still can't help but salute the little facilities in Iowa and Maine and Idaho that strive for excellence for no other reason than they should.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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