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Vital Signs

Memo to supply room: Order more halos

By Laura Stephenson Carter

The halos hovering over their heads are palpable in every phrase of their nomination letters. One is "the most thorough provider I know." Another is "a true model of team building." The third "greet[s] thousands of people a day . . . in such a positive and caring way."

Point: These paragons of virtue were the winners of the inaugural James W. Varnum Quality Health Care Awards at DHMC. But the real point—the reason the awards were established by the Trustees—is that the winners are representative of a culture that pervades the entire DHMC organization.

Whether they work in the public eye or behind the scenes, DHMC employees routinely go above and beyond the call of duty. James Varnum, who retired in 2006 after 28 years as president of Mary Hitchcock Hospital, appreciated that as much as anyone. So the quality awards program was created in his name to recognize those whose work embodies a commitment to the highest quality health care.

Warm: The first three recipients were Maureen Quigley, clinical program director of bariatric surgery, who was cited by her nominators as a true patient advocate; Tracey Rapp, manager of Central Sterile Reprocessing, who "works well with others throughout the institution"; and Peter Ashton, an information desk patient care representative, whose warm, friendly greeting is the first impression many anxious patients and family members have of DHMC. At the same time, Dr. William Boyle, a professor of pediatrics, received the first annual Presidents' Quality Award, for his career-long commitment to delivering—and teaching—compassionate, family- centered care.

Varnum, a 1962 graduate of Dartmouth College, was the president of Mary Hitchcock from 1978 to 2006, as well as, from 1983 to 2006, of the Dartmouth- Hitchcock Alliance, a consortium of 11 healthcare organizations in New England. In 2006, he received the American Hospital Association Award of Honor for his outstanding contributions to improving the health status of communities and the nation.

Under Varnum's leadership, DHMC's quality improvement efforts included the establishment of the Center for Shared DecisionMaking; the creation of a quality-reports website with detailed information on outcomes; the development of a website that posts the charge for many procedures and allows patients to estimate their out-of-pocket cost; and many other regional and national initiatives.

But Varnumwas as famous for little gestures as for big ones. He personally presented thousands of service awards to employees over the years, and he would regularly drop in on remote corners of the institution so that he could find out what was on the minds of workers whose paths would probably never otherwise cross his.

Now, with the creation of the Varnum Awards, the culture of quality improvement and appreciation that he nurtured should continue to thrive. Maybe the supply room should put in a bulk order for those halos.

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