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NC Rural Hospitals Lean Together to Zap Waste

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2011

When Lenoir, North Carolina-based Caldwell Memorial Hospital first signed on to be a part of the Western North Carolina Rural Hospital Lean Collaborative,president and CEO Laura Easton didn't think they'd find much to trim. 

"None of us want to believe we have waste. I didn't believe we had waste," Easton said in an interview with HealthLeaders Media. "I thought we were so lean and mean there was no way we were going to find anything."

But find waste she did.

"I found out, in our process, that we had a guy who worked full time as a lint remover. He just used a lint brush and [removed lint from towels] for the operating room," she remembers. "Or that we had six people who just scan things all day long, just scan papers. You just find things and you had no idea. You're not even that big; you thought you knew it all."

With the help of the North Carolina Hospital Association, a consulting firm, and a grant from the Duke Endowment, Caldwell Memorial Hospital teamed with four other hospitals to learn how to apply lean management principles. The hospitals shared ideas and resources, including funding and consulting services, and attended each other's learning events.

Lean management is relatively straightforward: Eliminate waste within the organization. But not all waste is as obvious finding a new job for the lint brush guy.

The process works by focusing on specific value streams within the organization and performing a series of "rapid improvement events" which map out the entire workflow, identify areas of waste, find places to trim, and apply a new process.

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