In case you don't know, Sister Mary Jean is kind of like one of those pop stars for whom no last name is necessary—at least within healthcare leadership circles. Her most lasting legacy outside SSM will be her pioneering work in the area of healthcare quality.
Inside, she says, "if people only remember that everything I tried to do was for the patients we serve and our employees, I would be happy with that. I've tried to convey to our people that I would never make a decision that involved the whole system if it didn't benefit the whole system. Everyone within the system gets their turn at benefiting more. I hope that people have understood how important that was."
Sister Mary Jean began her healthcare career as a nurse more than 45 years ago and recently celebrated her 50th anniversary as a member of her order. She's most well-known in healthcare for her embrace of continuous quality improvement philosophies to achieve excellence in healthcare quality.
"I look on 1990 as a pivotal year, because that is when we made decision to have a formal continuous quality improvement way of doing our work. It's not a program, because programs come and go. It's a way of life."
In 2002, the system became the first healthcare organization in the nation to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Since that time, Sister Mary Jean has worked tirelessly to share SSM's lessons with others in healthcare and in other industries. But learning the lessons involved in the Baldrige quest wasn't always easy on the ego, she says, especially at first. Most organizations try for multiple years before they win a Baldrige award, and SSM was no exception.