Waste reduction: Area health systems embrace lean practices

Waste reduction: Area health systems embrace lean practices

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Healthcare has a lot of potential for waste. Patients face waiting room times and confusing paperwork. Staff members handle more paperwork, extra medications, distant supply closets. On top of it all, it’s an expensive industry where human well-being is at stake, so there’s little room for simplicity.

Still, healthcare organizations in La Crosse and Winona have embraced lean — the idea that waste can be reduced and patient care enhanced at the same time. From trimming costs to listening to patient concerns, meeting government regulations to integrating new technology, here’s a look at lean at a health system near you.

Winona Health

Rachelle Schultz, CEO at Winona Health, said lean isn’t just about reducing costs. It’s about reaching more than 1,100 employees with the same strategic message of quality care and innovation. And that begins with accessible leadership.

In 2008, just after Winona Health launched its lean initiative, Winona Clinic merged with Winona Health, and in 2009 Family Medicine of Winona joined the organization also. With these changes came the need for a new management structure.

To begin, administrators and staff looked at the different channels by which patients enter the Winona Health system, identifying five different clinical areas that are essentially the front doors to the community. In each of those areas, they already had an administrative leader, but “we also wanted to make sure that we had physician leadership,” Schultz said, because physicians actually see the day-to-day barriers to efficiency and can best identify ways to improve.

With that senior management team in place, Schultz said there is not a need for multiple levels of management. “We don’t have a big bureaucracy here,” she said.

Lean management goes back to the strategic goals of the organization, and when employees see a barrier to those goals, they can bring their concerns directly to management.

If a nurse has to run to a distant closet to get a gauze pad, that lack of efficiency affects both staff and patients. “It’s that level of detail,” Schultz said.

Gundersen Health System

Michael O’Neill, executive director for efficiency improvement at Gundersen Health System, said Gundersen has had some type of lean strategy since around 2007. The organization implemented a lean management system in 2012.

A true test of the system’s lean strategy came with their new Legacy Building, which features a lean design.

In the new building, every room has a supply cabinet that can be stocked with patient-specific supplies, so a nurse doesn’t have to bring them from a remote location every time.

In addition to adjusting to a new building, O’Neill has trained numerous staff to identify problems and make recommendations on the front lines of patient care — right where they already work. Much like Winona Health’s system, this plan allows any of Gundersen’s 6,500 employees to come forward with ideas.

“The staff really embrace that, because it’s something that they create,” he said. “It’s really exciting to see the momentum around it.”

Mayo Clinic-Southwestern Wisconsin

Timothy Johnson, CEO for the Southwest Wisconsin region of Mayo Clinic Health System, said the strategy at Mayo is similar to the others—effective tools only accomplish goals when they’re accompanied by effective management.

For the 3,200 employees in the Southwest Wisconsin region, the lean strategy means accountability and learning opportunities. Johnson said his leadership team works to make sure employees feel safe coming forward with problems that need change.

“It takes everybody engaged to get this to happen,” he said.

Since Mayo is just over two years into the implementation of their lean strategies, Johnson said it’s a bit early to see what kind of impact those strategies are having.

“We’re starting to see more rapid improvement,” he said. “Our employees are starting to develop confidence in their ability to solve problems.”


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