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Gundersen Is Walking the Talk

By Jameson Case | Monday, March 30, 2015
Gundersen Health System enjoys a well-deserved reputation for being at the forefront of important changes in health care, including patient- and family-centered care. As a member of IHI’s Leadership Alliance, CEO Jeff Thompson (pictured below, left) and Legislative Policy Analyst Brian Vamstad (pictured below, right) offer some reflections on Gundersen’s work in light of the Leadership Alliance vision that’s now been laid out in a March 26, 2015, Online First Viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 

ThompsonVamstad

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” 
 Winston Churchill


Gundersen Health System’s involvement in IHI’s Leadership Alliance is a natural fit. Innovative systems and organizations from across the country have come together to collaborate by exchanging ideas, experiences, and knowledge with a commitment to continuously improve and transform the health care delivery system  to do what’s right for patients and the communities we serve. The inaugural Online First JAMA Viewpoint, “Change From the Inside Out,” drawing on the vision and thinking of the Leadership Alliance, sets out the Alliance’s principles and goals for continuous improvement. Participating in the IHI Leadership Alliance will help organizations like Gundersen get better faster and continue working to achieve the Triple Aim  better care, better health, at lower cost.  

Gundersen Health System demonstrates that it is possible to face challenges, embrace change, and make progress toward the goals and principles outlined in the IHI Leadership Alliance’s inaugural piece. Our comprehensive, interdisciplinary advance care planning program changed the way care is designed to ensure that patients’ wishes and goals regarding end-of-life care are honored; it is a model for the nation, now used throughout the world. Our change and improvement efforts are guided by “What matters to you?”  one of many important questions our providers and staff ask patients and their families every day, creating a partnership to achieve better outcomes and better care.


Through our Envision® program, we achieved energy independence  the first health system in the country to do so  by investing in efficiency, renewable energy, and reduced fossil fuel consumption. Gundersen refused to accept that sustainability is an “either/or” choice. We reduced waste, developed community partnerships, and insisted upon programs and initiatives that improved environmental conditions for our patients and lowered our costs, while also investing in and supporting the local economy. 

Our “500 Club” partnership with local businesses, convenience stores, schools, and restaurants offers a menu of local, healthy food choices throughout communities in western Wisconsin. The culture of our organization has pushed boundaries in transforming care outside the walls of the health system.

Our initiatives demonstrate that it is possible to make progress toward the principles illustrated in “Change From the Inside Out.” However, our efforts to improve population health and lower cost are not aligned with how government pays us for services. But we cannot wait for government to fix the health care system or wait for what happens with the Affordable Care Act. There is no doubt that policy making has a critical role in transforming the delivery system from volume to value  to reward and incentivize efficiency and quality. Despite this, we as health care leaders must continue to drive forward towards the Triple Aim and be willing to break down traditional barriers of health care to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve.  

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