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Tuesday, Oct 4, 2022
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Dennis Benton

At a time of enormous change and uncertainty for the health care industry, the San Fernando Valley region is home to many who are embracing the challenges boldly with new ideas and fresh vision. The 10 innovators profiled in the following pages are emblematic of the important work performed by health care workers every day. They are working to improve care and lower costs — and answer the urgent need for a better health care system. Doctors in white lab coats are what most patients expect to see by their bedside early in the morning — not a man in a suit. But twice a week Dennis Benton makes rounds on patients — as doctors and nurses do. It’s what helps him to see and experience what patients experience at Kaiser Permanente-Panorama City Medical Center. And it’s helped Benton, the facility’s executive director, to lead the 218-bed hospital from good to great in recent years. KP-Panorama City last year was named one of Southern California’s “Top Hospitals” by the Leapfrog Group, an organization of buyers of health care coverage which tracks quality, costs and outcomes nationwide. Earlier this year, the hospital was named a top performer by The Joint Commission, the leading healthcare accreditation organization in the U.S. The hospital performed at or better than 95 percent on four key measures, including heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care. Only 14 percent of hospitals nationwide achieve such thresholds. Benton says the praise belongs to his staff. His role has been simply to set the tone for excellence in patient care. But few executives can do that by staying behind their desks, which is why he visits patients. “Rather than just talk about quality and service and patient safety and satisfaction, I’ve tried to back up those words with action,” Benton said. He’s learned that many patients can’t sleep through the night because the hospital is too noisy: wheels on the IV carts squeak too much and the pneumatic tubes clank when anyone drops in a document. So he had the wheels replaced and put sound-absorbing material around the tubes. Now patients sleep better at night and go home more satisfied. “Our patient satisfaction scores were in the 90th percentile, which means we’re doing better than 90 percent of hospitals,” Benton said. Achieving such scores is important for the hospital’s own sake. But starting next year, it will also affect how hospitals are reimbursed. Those that achieve high patient satisfaction scores can qualify for bonuses from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), while those that fall below could be punished. Also next year, CMS will eliminate payments to hospitals that make mistakes or cause harm, such as leave foreign objects inside a surgery patient or give someone a hospital-acquired infection. To make sure mistakes don’t happen, Benton has instituted a check-list culture. For example, before any surgery is performed, employees mark the exact spot of the surgery site. And before a surgeon puts scalpel to skin, the team has a “time-out,” which allows each member to conduct a final verification of the correct patient, procedure and site. Such techniques have totally eliminated wrong site surgeries at KP-Panorama City, said Benton, who noted it’s a problem that continues to plague many U.S. hospitals. CalHospital Compare.org, a service of the California HealthCare Foundation, gave the medical center a superior rating for patient safety; it achieved a 99 percent rating on surgical measures, compared to a 96 percent state average. Other performance measures have improved, as well. For example, hospital acquired pressure ulcers were just .8 percent and accidental lung punctures were nonexistent. The hospital has also achieved superior patient satisfaction scores: 79 percent compared to a state average of 68 percent, according to CalHospitalCompare.org. The hospital is not perfect. Those squeaky wheels — well, sometimes they still squeak. Only 67 percent of KP-Panorama City’s patients said they were physically comfortable. It’s better than the state average, but leaves room for improvement. That’s OK with Benton. He does not plan to rest on his laurels. One tenet of great organizations is that they don’t stop improving, he said. As an avid fan of Jim Collins’ book Good to Great — required reading for all leaders at KP-Panorama City — he, too, plans on striving for perfection. “We are never satisfied with where we are,” he said. “We are still on the path from good to great.”

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