Though Spectrum Health has implemented a slew of environmental- and community-focused programs and initiatives over the years, it has never done much to toot its own horn about those efforts.
“There was a sense of presumption before that everybody knows who we are and that we do a lot of things and that we are involved and that this is our mission — they know that and we don’t have to say it,” said Steve Heacock, senior vice president, Spectrum Health.
As an organization whose service is nursing patients back to health, Spectrum hasn’t been part of the backlash other corporations have experienced following their highly publicized corporate scandals. That “dark cloud” led several companies to begin publishing Corporate Social Responsibility reports highlighting the positive impacts they are making within their communities.
Heacock said there has been a growing interest at Spectrum to develop a baseline from which to begin measuring the progression of its environmental and community efforts. The organization set out to examine the results of its social, environmental and economic programs — which number in the hundreds — that are positively impacting the West Michigan region.
Once the results from the initial study were compiled, Heacock said Spectrum leaders realized the public probably doesn’t know the full magnitude of how the health care provider is impacting the larger community and that it would be a good idea to share its results.
Spectrum released its first CSR report earlier this year, highlighting nine impact areas that its programs and initiatives fall within: community engagement, education, employee engagement, community benefit, healthier communities, innovation, regional relationships, research and sustainability.
In talking about Spectrum’s CSR report, Heacock said the best place to start is with employee engagement, which, although it has its own category, is really the backbone of every program.
He said while many employees are involved on an individual level with their churches, school systems and the causes that matter to them, it is especially impressive when they come together en masse to volunteer for Spectrum events.
“When we do it in an organized fashion, it is phenomenal,” Heacock said. “Let me give you an example: the Transplant Games of America. We sponsored it. We didn’t just write them a check; we ran the thing in conjunction with the (West Michigan) Sports Commission. So they had these athletes come from around the country and the world — 800 athletes and 3,000 people.
“We put a call out (that) we need some volunteers for this, and 330 people show up for the weekend, giving up their own time, leaving their families and what they were going to do that weekend, and spending the time at Grand Valley helping these folks out and helping West Michigan look good. Clearly, there is a benefit to those people and the community, but the benefit to our employees is phenomenal — the camaraderie, the pride in where they work, the interest in the impact that we can have overall. It was inspiring.”
Another nearly 100 Spectrum employees volunteered for Jump Jam, a jump-roping competition for local school children to encourage fitness.
“It’s that sense of community that differentiates us from just a job,” Heacock said. “It’s not a job; it’s a place people want to be and be part of.”
With 19,000 employees, volunteer opportunities are a great recruiting and retention tool for the hospital. It helps connect employees who might not meet each other otherwise, and often employees bring their families along to volunteer, as well, widening the company “family.”
Spectrum also has a strong innovation engagement component, encouraging employees to share ideas for improvements. According to the CSR report, nearly 300 ideas generated by nurses, physicians, housekeeping staff and facility engineers have been explored in the last three years. Forty of those ideas have been implemented, and the hospital has received one patent and filed for seven in the United States and eight internationally.
One such innovation is the commercial product Abriiz, which, according to the CSR report, is a web- and mobile-based chronic-condition self-management tool that connects patients and care teams. It was originally launched to help children manage their asthma and is now being applied to a number of other health conditions, including heart disease.
“Another one that was fun came out of pediatric X-rays,” Heacock said. “Kids are terrified of the MRI and X-rays, so someone came up with the idea of taking the lead apron that you have to put on and make it (look) like a bear. Put a head and some arms on it, and then the child is just hugging a bear instead of having a lead apron on.
Another example Heacock mentioned was a janitor who figured out how to clean the sprinkler system with a tube attached to a vacuum cleaner.
Heacock said creating a culture that encourages employees to innovate and look beyond their specific job duties is important to Spectrum’s continued success as a health care provider.
“Some of it is just meant to unleash people and to let them know they are important and we believe they have ideas that are meaningful, valid and important, and not just ‘do your job, keep your mouth shut, don’t work outside of your narrow little area.’ That is the spirit it is meant to evoke.”
Spectrum also is concerned with its future work force. It is working to establish a pipeline through several educational partnerships, including one with the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ School of Health Sciences, which helps prepare students for a college education and careers in health care. Spectrum Health committed $150,000 annually over three years and dedicated a full-time employee to coordinate the initiative. More than 300 students were enrolled during the 2010-2011 school year.
Spectrum also has a partnership with Life EMS to help train high school students to become EMS drivers so that, upon graduation, they are qualified for jobs in the industry. Heacock said while many of these students may not go on to careers as EMS drivers, the training often provides the encouragement for them to pursue other medical careers.
Environmental sustainability also is a major focus area. Heacock acknowledged that a health system of Spectrum’s size is a huge generator of waste, but he said that while the potential to negatively impact the environment is great, on the flip side, the potential to positively impact the environment is equally large.
Spectrum’s goal is to create a nationally recognized sustainability model for regional health care by 2014. In the area of recycling alone, Spectrum has made substantial gains. It recycled 865 tons of paper, packaging and equipment used at its facilities in the past year. It initiated a Clean Patient Room initiative that is expected to recycle 100,000 pounds of material annually. The hospital is also focused on reprocessing medical devices and recycling operating room instruments and packaging from sterile instruments. Disposing of food waste also is a concern, and Spectrum composts 10 tons of food at Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals each month.
Spectrum sources 40 percent of its food from local farms and provides an on-site farmers market and community-supported agriculture programs.
“We belong to a group called Project Greenhealth, a consortium of hospitals across the country trying to improve sustainability,” Heacock said. “This last year we got their highest branding for our efforts across the board.”
Heacock said Spectrum is proud of its efforts, but it still sees itself as being only at the starting point. He emphasized the CSR report is a baseline that now has to be improved upon in the years to come.
“We really feel like we are new at this and are very excited about the future,” he said.