Helping Georgia’s Rural Hospitals

With support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, the Enterprise Innovation Institute is helping Georgia’s rural hospitals learn lean techniques that improve patient care and reduce costs. Shown is Nancy Peed, CEO of Peach Regional Medical Center in Fort Valley.

With support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, the Enterprise Innovation Institute is helping Georgia’s rural hospitals learn lean techniques that improve patient care and reduce costs. Shown is Nancy Peed, CEO of Peach Regional Medical Center in Fort Valley.

To improve customer satisfaction, enhance the quality of services and reduce costs, Peach Regional Medical Center has worked with the Georgia Institute of Technology to adopt process improvement techniques traditionally used by the manufacturing industry. Already, Peach Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department has noted a 20 percent decrease in average length of stay for its patients.

“The bulk of our patients come through the emergency room, and people judge the care by how quickly they are seen and treated,” said Nancy Peed, CEO of Peach Regional Medical Center. “Peach Regional Medical Center provides care for 15,000 patients each year in our emergency department, and this volume continues to increase. That demand, coupled with an undersized and aging emergency department facility, means of course that we have throughput issues, and we are working diligently to manage and improve these issues.”

Earlier this year, Peed became aware of an initiative led by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to help train rural hospital staff in lean principles that identify waste in processes and find ways to eliminate it, while improving customer and staff satisfaction. The project is funded by a $349,000 grant from Healthcare Georgia Foundation. Georgia Tech has successfully used the approach with hospitals in Athens, Atlanta, Columbus, Newnan and Vidalia, and its training programs have been licensed for use nationwide by the American Hospital Association.

Matt Haynes, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, began the project by leading Peach Regional staff in lean overview training. Teams of six people from the medical center then developed value stream maps – diagrams of the entire patient admitting and discharge process – for both the medical surgical nursing and emergency departments.

“We identified 30-day quick fixes and also began implementing 5S, a method for organizing the workplace,” recalled Chance McGough, medical surgical nurse manager and lean coordinator for Peach Regional. “We organized the ER and utility rooms, labeled everything in the supply closets and color-coded materials so they are easier to find. That has helped facilitate flow through the ER because we spend less time looking for things and more time taking care of patients.”

In addition to the lean implementation, senior management at Peach Regional attended a Disney Institute workshop in Atlanta titled “Common Sense to Common Practice: Lessons for Healthcare.” Topics included how to improve the patient experience and motivate health care staff while delivering top-notch health care service, an imperative in a state where approximately 85 percent of hospitals are operating at a loss, Peed said. This training was also funded by the Healthcare Georgia Foundation grant.

“If we can come up with ways from within of doing things quicker, more efficiently and with less duplication, we’re ahead of the game and we can be even more successful and provide even better care to our patients,” noted Peed. “It’s not good enough to meet customer needs; you have to exceed them every time.”

Rural hospitals in Georgia face a financial crisis because their patients are less likely than those of metropolitan hospitals to have health insurance. At the same time, hospitals in underserved areas face other competitive disadvantages as they confront rising costs.

“The current recession has impacted the rural hospitals more so than those in metro Atlanta,” Haynes noted. “Improving the process of how patients are seen is having a positive impact on both patient treatment and the hospital’s profit.”

Such facilities need to find sustainable ways to become more efficient, which is why Healthcare Georgia Foundation provided the grant to Georgia Tech. In addition to Peach Regional Medical Center, hospitals participating in the program include Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Monroe County Hospital in Forsyth, Morgan Memorial Hospital in Madison, Banks-Jackson-Commerce Hospital in Commerce, West Georgia Medical Center in LaGrange, and Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe.

The projects are expected to be completed by June 2010.

About Healthcare Georgia Foundation: Healthcare Georgia Foundation is a statewide, private independent foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to advance the health of all Georgians and to expand access to affordable, quality healthcare for underserved individuals and communities. Through its strategic grant-making, Healthcare Georgia Foundation supports organizations that drive positive change, promotes programs that improve health and healthcare among underserved individuals and communities, and connects people, partners and resources across Georgia. For more information, please visit the Foundation online at (

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute: The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation. For more information, visit (

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright