Reflections from the Director: Changing Times / Changing Measures / Changing Behavior

By / Posted on June 11th, 2013

Changing performance metrics can catalyze a dramatic improvement. I recall the story of Walgreens in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Collins and his research team describe Walgreens as nothing more than a sleepy retail pharmacy chain that limped along for years before a dramatic rise to great results that lasted for over 15 years. The researchers examined what triggered the change and discovered that Walgreens had deviated from the industry norm of measuring their performance. All retail pharmacies, including Walgreens before their rise to greatness, had used one key performance metric to measure their performance – revenue per square foot per store. When Walgreens began measuring their own performance with a new measure – revenue per customer visit – their dramatic acceleration began. Gradually, all other retail pharmacies followed suit and began to use this new performance metric and it changed the retail pharmacy industry forever. The change in this one performance metric led to new systems, improved staffing and re-designed stores. In fact, when Walgreens reset their measure they set a new goal. The goal was $40 per customer visit. My wife consistently exceeds that goal.

In the Skilled Nursing profession, for over 45 years, we have all measured our performance by, generally, a single measure – our annual department of health inspection results. Recently, my Dad shared with me a newspaper article that described 5-Star nursing home closing its’ doors in Massachusetts and the article kind of shook me up. After all, the whole intent of the 5-Star rating system is to drive consumers to the best performing SNFs. So…why do 5-Star homes close and 1-Star homes remain full? Perhaps the 1-star home is actually a better performer than the 5-star home. The answer lies outside of our one key performance measure.

The metrics of SNFs are shifting – and this bodes well for the profession as a whole. Two performance measures are taking hold that will surely help to separate the star performers from the rest of the pack. The two we are speaking of have been hammered away at the nursing home professionals nationwide – reduce or eliminate the off-label use of antipsychotics and reduce the avoidable re-hospitalizations. Just like Walgreens, the improvements in these two measures will require improving the systems of care, enhanced staff composition and competence, and changing the physical environment of SNFs.

Reducing or eliminating the off-label use of anti-psychotics triggers providers to get serious about delivering person-centered care. Organizations will need to reduce their C.N.A. to resident ratios and de-institutionalize their physical environments (and we are not talking about simply new wallpaper). Enhancing the competence of the entire staff through a significant increase in education hours that are focused on caring for those living with dementia will be foundational to their success.

Reducing re-hospitalization rates leads SNF leader’s to raise the bar on increasing clinical competence and adding talented and compassionate RNs to their staff. Also, this new measure forces leaders’ to re-examine their turnover rates and absenteeism because staff instability does not allow for consistent assignment and diminishes communication. Clearly, the health of the relationships among the staff of each SNF is reflected in their re-hospitalization rate. Therefore, better systems of communication and new job descriptions are needed to strengthen staff relationships. Today, many providers can see that their current physical environment – an average of 85 elders living together in tight quarters, shared rooms, shared bathrooms, shared shower rooms – is perfectly designed to spread infections among the elders and staff. Private rooms with private baths and showers for each elder will become the new norm. A smaller and better designed environment is critical to both clinical outcomes and a dignified quality of life.

Of course, a SNF’s performance on their annual department of health inspections is important and always will be. It has to remain a key measure with the other 5-Star metrics. Examined next to a SNF’s performance on these two measures will provide consumers, operators, surveyors and policy makers a way to more clearly identify where elders should flock to for their care.