John Bluford Creates a Culture of Change

Creating a culture of health challenges the norm and requires hospitals to be leaders.

In order to create a culture of health, lifestyle habits and hospital models need to be changed, according to American Hospital Association Chairman and Truman Medical Centers President and CEO John Bluford. "We can make a dent in the health care status in the communities we serve," he told SCHA members during the 90th Annual Meeting. "We, as an industry, must redefine who we are and how we operate. Hospitals cannot be the box on the hill."

There are 5,800 hospitals in the United States with about 5.1 million employees.  In most communities around the country, hospitals are the largest employers, which allows for a great opportunity to reach hundreds and sometimes thousands of people each day. The long-term key to success is the prevention of illness and managing the costs associated with sickness.

Knowing what many health care administrators already know about a healthy workforce being the key to better productivity, Bluford took action. The hospital created programs that helped the employees and their families make wellness a priority – health risk assessment, no co-pay for medications, 24-hour nurse lines, smoke-free work place and paid time off for wellness activities.

Working with employees to achieve better personal health was just one component of the changes happening at Truman Medical Centers. Bluford and his staff "took a leap" and decided they were also going to make a difference in the community that they serve.

They expanded the efforts in their community outreach program. In addition to participating in the health care fairs, they also do blood tests at churches, have dieticians in local grocery stores, pay for taxicabs to get people into their appointments and have a fresh produce market every Wednesday during warm months.

Another program implemented is Passport to Wellness. The program, which is targeted at their "frequent flyers," those who are constantly readmitted, who make a dozen or more visits a month to their emergency room and have chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, chronic heart failure. About 100 patients were identified and provided intense case management attention with doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and social workers to help the patient schedule and keep appointments and otherwise deal with what can be a dauntingly complex medical system. The system is especially confusing for someone gravely ill with little or no money and perhaps no English.

"We are challenging the business model," he said. "We know we are not going to get paid as much as we have. Period."

More ideas can be found in AHA's "A Call to Action: Creating a Culture of Health," a comprehensive report that provides background on health and wellness programs and how they are incentivized by the Affordable Care Act, examples of hospital best practices and how-to recommendations for the industry.

03-09-2011 12:54 (EST)