Why Should Unions Lead Quality and Innovation?

Labor encouraged to be proactive for patient care improvement
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Encouraging unions to make strategic use of labor-management partnerships to focus on quality improvement through increased frontline staff involvement was the focus of an ILR working conference this month.

By working together to identify mutual goals and refocus activities on quality improvement, labor and management will improve patient care quality and experiences, improve Americans’ health and reduce health care costs, participants were told.

“Why Should Unions Lead on Quality and Innovation?" was sponsored by the Healthcare Transformation Project, established in 1997 to create educational forums and to provide consulting and research.

The program is focused on helping union and management health care leaders prepare for and adapt to leading practices and labor-management partnerships in order to accelerate processes to improve patient care and reduce costs. Clients have included management, hospital systems and labor unions in the U.S. and abroad.

At the conference, John August, associate director of ILR’s Healthcare Transformation Project, framed the health care crisis as a social justice issue. He highlighted poor outcomes and lack of access to quality health care in the United States, despite high costs.

Howard Berliner, policy director for SEIU, helped participants learn about the changes in reimbursement and emphasis on clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

The panel on labor-management partnership included Mike Bennett, former president and chairman, UAW Local 1853 at Saturn Corporation and August. Panelists discussed the importance and challenges of establishing and maintaining labor-management partnerships at both Saturn and at Kaiser Permanente in order to provide frontline staff opportunities to improve the health care delivery system.

Dr. Farbod Raiszadeh, a cardiologist and former president of the Committee of Interns and Residents, conducted a workshop on how unions need to restructure in order to be a partner with management to improve quality of care and to address patient safety issues.

By focusing on such activities, the Committee of Interns and Residents has been able to "create value for everyone" from patients to residents and hospitals, he said.

A workshop on quality improvement approaches was conducted by Barbara Conrad, Quality Care Training Program coordinator of the SEIU Healthcare (Pa.) Training and Education Fund. Another workshop was conducted Stu Winby, president of the organizational consultancy Sapience, focused on innovation and rapid-cycle process improvement to assist each site in developing work plans.