In pioneering a new model of patient care, Griffin Hospital is a trailblazer
Griffin Hospital, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt subsidiary of the Griffin Health Services Corp., is a 160-bed acute care community hospital serving more than 100,000 residents of the lower Naugatuck Valley. It also serves as the flagship hospital for Planetree Inc., an international leader in patient-centered care that has received national recognition for creating a facility and approach to patient care that is responsive to the needs of patients. Griffin has more than 280 active and courtesy physicians who have admitting privileges. It is affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine and accredited by the Joint Commission.
Griffin is recognized for having industry-leading patient satisfaction ratings and has received numerous quality and clinical excellence awards. It is the only hospital to be named on Fortune magazine's “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for ten years running, and was the only Connecticut hospital named a "Top Quality Performer" on key quality measures by the Joint Commission in 2011.
Planetree is a consumer health-care organization dedicated to humanizing health care. The planetree, or sycamore tree, is the tree under which Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, sat when he began teaching his medical students in ancient Greece. In 1992, the hospital instituted Planetree, an innovative model of health care that puts patients' needs first.
In Planetree’s patient-centered approach to health care, providers partner with patients and their family members to identify and satisfy the full range of patient needs and preferences. The program counts several hundred hospitals and health-care organizations in the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe among its members.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes since the Planetree program began,” says William Richter of Oxford, a former member of the hospital’s Community Advisory Council and a volunteer there for the past 14 years. “With the council, we got together once a month to talk about what we observed, what patients may have told us or what we heard around the hospital. We look at the feedback to see if something works or doesn’t work. We’ve gotten good feedback on the program.”
Richter says the council sees patient comments received by various means, including his own observations in his role as an ambassador for the volunteer program, in which he greets people at the door and guides them to their destination in the hospital. He says the hospital is well-received in the community. He says Griffin keeps up with the bigger hospitals but they are more like “home” and very patient focused.
“Customer service here is great,” he adds. “If we find something on a survey that doesn’t look great, we bring it up at our council meeting and at the next meeting, they’ll have it all squared away.”
Susan Frampton, president of Planetree, which is headquartered at Griffin, says the program is one of the reasons Griffin remains one of the best places to work and that it has had many positive effects on the way the hospital treats its patients and conducts business.
“Probably, the most important influence of Planetree has been on the organizational culture,” says Frampton, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers and her Ph.D. from UConn, both in medical anthropology. “We’re involved in working with hospitals and long-term care settings to help to transform their cultures from a provider-centered culture to a patient- and family-centered culture.” She notes that the process begins with input from the hospital staff, patients and families of patients to get a sense of the existing culture.
Frampton says the best way to understand the benefits of Planetree is to visit one of its member hospitals. There, the visitor will find a culture that begins with music in the parking lot, greeters at the door and staff eager to please and make a patient’s stay comforting as well as keeping the patient informed about every aspect of his or her treatment.
“We look for every opportunity to make it a better experience for the patients and their families,” adds Frampton. “It fosters transparency for the patients and allows patients to view their own medical histories and patient records” to answer questions about their condition.
“It’s very much a model that engages patients and their families in their own care process,” notes Frampton.
Patrick A. Charmel, president and CEO of Griffin Health Services Corp. and the hospital, began his association as an intern in 1979 while attending Quinnipiac University. He served in a variety of administrative positions and rose to become president in 1998. He also serves as president of Planetree Inc., a not-for-profit subsidiary of the corporation that supports an alliance of more than 170 hospitals in the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada and Brazil, and over 180 long-term care facilities and ambulatory care centers that are committed to patient empowerment and the delivery of patient-centered care.
During his tenure, Charmel has earned the hospital a reputation as an award-winning innovative organization, recognized as an industry leader in providing personalized consumer-driven health care in a healing environment. Under his leadership, Griffin was selected as the 2008 Top Leadership Team in Healthcare in the nation for community and mid-size hospitals by Health Leaders Media.
Griffin has earned numerous quality, value and patient experience awards from various national organizations that measure and monitor hospital performance. It is the only Connecticut hospital named a 2011 Top Quality Performer by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which accredits health care organizations in America. The hospital was also recognized by Premier Healthcare Alliance as a winner of the 2010 Premier Award for Quality, placing it in the top one percent of the nation’s hospitals.
Charmel is also president of the board of governors of the Quinnipiac University Alumni Association and a university trustee. In 2011, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Yale School of Public Health. He is a recipient of the 2009 Planetree Lifetime Achievement Award.
Charmel is co-author of Putting Patients First: Designing and Practicing Patient-Centered Care (Jossey-Bass, 2003), which received the American College of Healthcare Executives health care book of the year award in 2004. A second edition of the book was published in October 2008.
“I’ve known Patrick since he was my student intern when he was a junior in the health-care program at Quinnipiac,” says William C. Powanda, the hospital’s vice president. “He’s a humble, self-effacing natural leader who leads by example and his personal values dictate how he manages. He’s passionate about excellence and providing a patient-centered, exceptional experience for every patient Griffin serves.”
Powanda notes that Griffin’s employees, physicians and his colleagues respect him because he is truthful and straightforward.
“Even if you don’t agree with him, you appreciate his candor and the rationale for his position,” adds Powanda. “He would never ask anything of an employee that he wouldn’t do himself. I’m proud to call him a colleague and friend.”
Charmel, who’ll celebrate his 15th year as president in February, says he never imagined he’d one day become the CEO of the very hospital where he had worked as a college intern. He figured he’d work there for several years, then move on to a different organization and work his way up the corporate ladder.
“That’s the typical career progression,” says Charmel, who next month also will mark 33 years at Griffin. “You start in a small- or medium-sized hospital in a junior position and you move up and take on more responsibility because there’s more prestige associated with that. In this organization, I’ve had opportunities to take on additional responsibilities, be progressive, be creative, try new things and, once they’re implemented, actually see some results.”
By contrast, Charmel adds, “In a larger organization, you can exert a lot of effort and not see a lot of positive movement. And that’s a little frustrating, if you’re results-oriented as I am. This is the kind of place where you have committed people who embrace change and are willing to try new things. You can actually turn the dials here and watch things happen. In a large place, you can turn the dials and see no response. From my point of view, this is the ideal place.
“For folks that are really dedicated to caregiving, this is the place that allows them to practice it,” says Charmel. “The model here gets stronger over time as because people are drawn here to work because they are committed to that type of approach.”
Charmel says that Griffin’s employees are prepared to make personal sacrifices to insure that patients get the best possible care in an environment that’s conducive to healing.
“It’s not only in direct caregiving, but also it’s an effort to create an environment for caregiving and that takes a lot of effort,” Charmel explains. ”It’s resulted in our folks getting a real sense of satisfaction because they know that they’re meeting or exceeding the expectations of their patients. Our folks have a great deal of pride in what they give to their patients, and that’s what makes us a great place to work.”
“We’ve got a national reputation and we’re a model for the industry but we’re intimate and a group of committed caregivers that really see themselves as a family,” adds Charmel. “So it’s the best of both worlds.”