Early in his career, Todd Stepanuik determined that the health-care sector required innovation to reach a higher level. Having served in various hospital leadership roles for more than 20 years before becoming CEO at Middlesex Hospital Alliance (MHA) in 2013, Stepanuik has realized that innovation starts in one place: with the people. And from the degree of pride and ownership possessed by MHA staff and volunteers alike to “stellar” patient satisfaction scores, it was clear to him that the company culture was reflected from the inside out.
“The actions and successes they’ve had sent a signal to me that this wasn’t something that’s strictly from the top down,” Stepanuik says. “I’ve tried to refine it and make sure to signal that innovation will continue to be a key strategic imperative for us as an organization.”
In this case, “refinement” translates into the considerable resources spent fostering the development of new ideas, new methods for patient care, and new leaders. People inherently want to be innovative, Stepanuik believes, and MHA works hard to harness that desire within its staff. The result is an operation “welded” to a common vision that is carried out with great energy. “The staff does an amazing job of personalizing, humanizing, and demystifying the hospital experience,” he says. “Everyone in this organization, no matter what their role is, has a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. They don’t need a lot of direction. They’re empowered.”
with Todd Stepanuik
What does innovation mean to your organization?
It allows and enables new ideas to emerge. It is critical to forge a culture where staff, physicians, and volunteers know the stage has been set for the safe expression of new ideas and innovative thinking.
How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
In our drive and movement to become more innovative, it is about having the courage to try new things, trusting our staff and teams to run with the ideas.
How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
From the time new members of the MHA family get onboarded through orientation, they recognize they can be catalysts for creativity and innovation. The tone certainly starts with leadership and then cascades down throughout the organization. Ultimately, it is my belief that it is our people who innovate. Technology, equipment, and IT are simply tools to build the process.
Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
System reconfiguration [integration], health system capacity planning, and funding reform.
How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
It is all about investing in your workforce. Retention for us is an imperative. We are blessed by having a workforce that, regardless of their role in the organization, personalizes and humanizes the patient and family experience. We are a community of people collectively committed to transforming the patient experience. We have a “whatever it takes” attitude.
As CEO, Stepanuik put a heavy emphasis on collaborative partnerships, with a steady awareness of the need to differentiate MHA by its methods rather than the services it provides. While MHA is not a very bureaucratic organization by design, Stepanuik stays on top of developments via monthly meetings and regular briefings. “Recognizing what they do on a daily basis helps the organization,” he says.
However, he stresses that it’s really about challenging the status quo with constant evolution and an entrepreneurial attitude. “If we didn’t change as an organization and redefine ourselves on a regular basis, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Stepanuik says.
To that end, the organization realized that innovation presents opportunity to push the envelope. One recent initiative is known as HUGO (Hospitals Undergoing Optimization). Together with 10 hospital corporations in the region, MHA has embarked on a journey from paper processes towards a completely electronic medical record. HUGO is a four-element system, with the initial go-live of phase one at MHA in February 2014. “HUGO is an important safety- and quality-transformation project,” Stepanuik says. “It’s about utilizing/optimizing technology and changing our processes, so that’s been an exciting initiative for us as an organization.”
LEAN is another initiative embraced by MHA. Its core idea focuses on maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. A prominent example is the Green Zone, a fast track intended to deal with wait times for nonurgent (lower acuity) patients. It provides a means for patients who are not as sick to be seen in a timely manner. “Quality care, improving wait times, and improving customer satisfaction are all priorities for the emergency department,” Stepanuik says.
There’s also a prominent part of MHA in the form of a $5 million initiative known as BAP (Breast Assessment Program). With current systems requiring breast cancer patients to navigate an uncertain sea of specialists, treatment centres, and locations to get the treatment they need, BAP is a concerted effort to streamline the process for all involved. And although it takes time to fully implement the program, BAP services are provided at the hospital.
“It’s the waiting and the unknown that are the hardest on families [affected by cancer],” Stepanuik says. “The BAP will provide a single point of entry for those with abnormalities. It will ease anxiety, stress, and wait times for patients.”
Creating seamless, better-integrated health-care models is the innovative core from which hospitals continue to thrive. And with MHA, Stepanuik is certain that he’s in the right place—and is leading the right people. “There’s an unwavering commitment to quality and innovation that’s passionately embraced,” he says. “There’s a long history of excellence here that we reinvent each and every day.”