Mid-America Transplant Services: The Baldrige Journey

Last month the United States Department of Commerce announced the 2015 recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for Performance Excellence, naming Mid-America Transplant Services (MTS) the recipient for the non-profit category. This Award recognizes MTS for its ability to serve its communities by saving lives through increased organ and tissue donation, and marks the first time an Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) has been named a Baldrige recipient. We interviewed CEO Dean Kappel after hearing of this accomplishment.

Melissa Margulies of AOPO (AOPO): In speaking to your staff, I’ve learned that not just winning this award, but the journey overall, was truly your vision. With your upcoming retirement, what does winning the Baldrige Award mean for your career overall and being able to leave MTS on such a high note?

Dean Kappel (DK): I’ve been planning for my retirement for a few years now and one of my personal goals I communicated to our Board of Directors was my objective to leave the organization really strong. I wanted to be able to look back on it five years down the road and see MTS even stronger. As you said, it’s not about the award; it’s about the journey. Winning is confirmation that we’ve made great process. It confirms that our organization is strong.

AOPO: I know MTS’ journey to the Baldrige Award was not the easiest. What do you think it is about your leadership style that kept this program moving throughout all the departments during the ups and downs?

DK: I would love to say it’s all about vision, but also a fair amount of stubbornness in sticking to the process. We adopted the Baldrige model in late 2002/ early 2003, but for years I had been looking for a way to drive the organization to the next level of performance. The thing about the Baldrige Model that appealed to me was that it is really a systems model. It forces you to deal with all aspects of the organization: leadership, planning, and implementation of plans.

AOPO: Do you think the changes that these other departments have seen are part of what contributed to the clinical and cost-effective outcomes?

DK: Certainly. For example, the program has an entire section about how you recruit, retain and engage employees. It’s not just about employee satisfaction; it’s also about employee engagement in terms of mission. We spend a lot of time trying to hire the best, and we do our best to keep them. We’ve had a 90% retention rate for several years now. Even with Clinical Coordinators, whose average tenure is about two years, MTS has several Coordinators who have been with the organization for 10-15 years.

Another big change MTS made was adding a Performance Improvement Department. While the existing Quality Improvement Department looks back and ensures that all records are correct, the new Performance Improvement Department looks forward, working with individual departments, providing objectives, and using measurement to drive performance and focus.

Implementing the Baldrige Model requires a huge amount of commitment from the top of organization; it really must be driven by senior leadership. That being said, this is the best way to make your organization better, but it requires an unwavering commitment to the program.

AOPO: So this was a 10+ year journey for MTS. With these best practices already vetted, how long do you think it would take for another OPO to implement a similar process into their organization?

DK: For MTS, we started to see results in three to five years in some places, but not in others. We would hope that it won’t take quite as long for another OPO to win the Baldrige Award. Part of the Baldrige Journey is translating the criteria and finding out how it applies and developing an approach that makes sense for your organization. One approach doesn’t work for every organization, but the Baldrige approach makes an organization consistently better long term. Any OPO can have a really good year followed by a really lousy year, but the goal is to know why they had one or the other. The biggest piece is knowing exactly where improvement is needed, what success looks like, and how you are measuring your outcomes and goals.

[divider height=”30″ line=””] [blockquote photo=”” author=”Dean Kappel” company=”CEO, Mid-America Transplant Services” link=”” target=”_blank”]“You don’t ever fully expect it. You’re getting better, but the standards are getting higher.”[/blockquote] [divider height=”30″ line=””]

This year, MTS’ work will account for more than 600 lifesaving organ transplants, twice as many lives saved in a single year as when the organization began its Baldrige journey over a decade ago. As the first OPO to receive this honor, MTS plans to leverage its national recognition to bring greater awareness to Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donation across the country, as well as help other OPOs incorporate the Baldrige model into their own organizations.