December 22, 2011

Good growth is fueled by committed people doing their best work

Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) leaders talked about growth with our Research Advisory Board (RAB) a few weeks ago. Reporting on our record levels of grant revenue and new staff, we expressed some caution about growing too fast—especially in an uncertain funding climate.

But Dr. Larry Corey, our newest board member and the new president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, challenged us: “I’m a virologist,” he said.  “I was taught that if you’re not growing, you’re dead.”

His comment drew laughs, but other board members joined him in some serious advice. They urged us to keep pursuing growth in order to seek ways to make health care more effective and less costly. With health care consuming a sixth of our nation’s gross domestic product, Group Health and the country need more science like ours, they told us, not less.

They pointed to evaluations of Group Health’s patient-centered medical home model, TEAMcare, shared decision making, and Total Health—Group Health employees’ value-based benefit design program—as great examples of the kind of real-world research that’s needed. And while GHRI’s growth should certainly be planned and strategic, the nation’s health care system needs our findings as soon as possible. So the board encouraged us to work with our partners in the care-delivery system to speed up moving innovation into practice.

The board’s advice is consistent with our recent history and direction. The Institute added seven new faculty members (for a total of 60) and 88 new project-supported staff in 2010. We plan to add up to five new faculty members this year. We have many new grants in the pipeline and are attracting some of the nation’s best researchers in health services, evaluation, prevention, biostatistics—and more.

As we grow, we aim to keep producing scientifically rigorous, high-quality research that’s driven by our mission to improve health and health care for all. But how do we best sustain this culture through the current period of tremendous change—not only for GHRI, but for the country’s entire health care and research environments? At our annual retreat on April 4, our faculty will ask this question, which aligns with Group Health’s “people strategy” focus in its 2011 Business Plan.

GHRI’s annual Gallup “Q12” survey—an assessment Group Health does to gauge staff engagement and satisfaction—is one place to look for answers. We take the survey each fall and use team-based results to develop plans for maintaining strengths while improving in weak spots. In 2010, GHRI showed remarkable growth in overall satisfaction. The percentage of staff who are “extremely satisfied” with Group Health as a place to work jumped from 26 percent to 38 percent. Our greatest strength is our commitment to quality, as 92 percent of GHRI employees “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “my co-workers are committed to doing quality work.” In my view, this represents a level of trust and commitment that is truly remarkable. It’s why we’ve been so successful and it’s a feature of GHRI that I personally treasure. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. We scored lowest on: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” Still, 71 percent either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. 

GHRI leaders were candid with the board about both the risks and opportunities we face; we’re constantly alert to the problems associated with growing federal deficits, which will likely affect our Institute, Group Health, and our communities. Institute leaders are also well aware that we may face many challenges and uncertainties in the coming months—including possible reductions in federal research spending, a struggling economy, and the rollout of the new health reform law. But this much we know: It’s a privilege and honor to be part of an organization that has grown so successfully, especially by attracting a talented and highly committed workforce.

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For more on Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute news, please contact:

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