Members in Action

Mt. Ascutney Takes Lean Six Sigma Approach to Ensure Quality and Safety

Mt. Ascutney quality team

When it comes to ensuring quality in a health care setting of any size, maintaining a high standard demands continuous improvement. Securing that improvement requires a common language and methodology. The Quality, Patient Safety, and Compliance Team at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center is ensuring high quality care in a safe environment for patients by embracing the Lean Six Sigma method. Lean Six Sigma is used across numerous industries to improve performance by identifying and reducing waste.

Otelah Perry, director of Quality, Patient Safety, and Compliance at Mt. Ascutney, has extensive experience with the method, having successfully implemented Lean Six Sigma at the DHMC laboratory in 2012. When she arrived at Mt. Ascutney, she was excited to learn that Lean Six Sigma had been introduced at the hospital by her predecessor, Johanna Beliveau, who is now CEO of System member VNH.

According to Perry, the Lean Six Sigma approach allows all members of the team to have an understanding of the tools and processes they will utilize to achieve improvements when they are planning projects and interventions. She explains, “By using standard terms and processes, we can brainstorm potential solutions and evaluate their effectiveness without any misunderstandings that can waste time. This makes workflows more efficient and easier to understand, which boosts staff satisfaction. Patient care gets streamlined and improved—positively affecting their satisfaction. Wasted time, money, and other resources are recaptured, helping to strengthen Mt. Ascutney toward the mission of improving the lives of those we serve.” Perry says that for any quality or safety issue at Mt. Ascutney, the core approach is defined by a five-step methodology known as DMAIC. “We define the problem,” she says, “measure current performance, analyze it to determine root causes of the problem, improve by eliminating the root cause, then control by monitoring the situation, taking additional action if the root cause reappears.”

Perry says that Lean Six Sigma principles can be applied to every hospital activity, from strategic planning to integrating compliance protocols. “Excellence in patient safety and quality is the culmination of individual actions and process steps,” she says. “There isn’t a magic wand to quality improvement—it’s a lifestyle change. It takes commitment, time, attention and sometimes perseverance, along with data, tools, structure, and support.”

Mt. Ascutney has committed to Lean Six Sigma by investing in extensive training for the entire Quality team and beyond, including classes hosted by D-H. “We are able to multiply continuous improvement efforts at Mt. Ascutney as more people are trained and involved,” says Perry. Lean Six Sigma signifies proficiency in the method by a four-tier system of white, yellow, green, and black belts, as in martial arts. At the expert level, Perry is a certified Lean Sigma Six Blackbelt, prioritizing coaching and teaching, while acting as an improvement project leader and leading the daily safety huddle. Associate Director A.J. Tapley, RN, the Hospital’s Risk and Compliance Manager, also recently completed his Blackbelt training. Quality Specialist Margaret Worth, RN, who leads Mt. Ascutney infection control and antibiotic stewardship committees, earned her Greenbelt and led a project focused on preventing employee injuries. Certified Yellowbelts include Brenna Heighes, quality data analyst; Rosalind Klezos, quality and compliance coordinator; and Colleen George, Mt. Ascutney medical staff coordinator. Overall, the hospital has now reached nearly 40 Yellowbelts across multiple departments and all employees are now required to complete a Whitebelt training module.

“Together,” says Perry, “we are moving forward efficiently to solve problems, not only as they arise, but before they emerge. As we work with our colleagues across the hospital, this approach is having a positive impact on the entire culture. And it’s all thanks to the commitment that Mt. Ascutney has made at every level to improve patient safety and better patient care.”