It’s Not What You Think

By Kruse Scholar Bianca Nguyen

In talking about Communities of Excellence thus far, it has been almost impossible to forgo mentioning the communities across the United States who are struggling with poverty, health disparities, and poor educational outcomes. This is the goal of Communities of Excellence—to lift up our communities that are not reaching their full potential and to enable them to attain success in all sectors so that our country can be a proud leader in excellence, whereas, currently, the United States spends far more than other first-world countries and is achieving far poorer health outcomes as a whole.

Part of the purpose of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to address the issue mentioned above. Health care costs continue to account for an alarming proportion of the GDP compared to other sectors, and per capita spending seems out of control for the outcomes we achieve compared to other nations. However, the ACA has received widespread criticism from some who debate that the federal statute is socialistic in nature because it imposes the requirement to buy health insurance upon every citizen in order to balance health insurance risk pools so that those who would otherwise have difficulty receiving or paying for health care can get treatment. Whether or not this argument is valid is a discussion for another day, but in realizing that there may be some similarities between the goals of the ACA and COE, I think it is important to recognize what Communities of Excellence is and is not.

Communities of Excellence is not about pouring in resources from one part of the community to subsidize or bail out any other areas in order to bring everyone to an equitable level of vitality. It is not an issue about not having enough resources because, as we know, the U.S. spends more than comparable countries on healthcare, but we are not getting the same bang for our buck. In fact, COE promotes using cross-sector collaboration and the Malcolm Baldrige Framework of Performance Excellence to make better use of the resources already available so that we improve efficiency and eliminate waste to achieve excellence. Now, “improve efficiency” and “eliminate waste” might sound like familiar buzz phrases heard within programs like Lean and Six Sigma which have grown in popularity.  So what makes the Baldrige Framework so special and essential to Communities of Excellence Framework? Why do we need Baldrige when there are other programs like Lean that exist?

The truth is, Baldrige and programs like Lean Six Sigma are not mutually exclusive—they are compatible, and even complimentary! The differentiating factor is that Lean Six Sigma and similar programs can be thought of more as tools, while Baldrige is a framework, but that does not mean that these performance improvement tools cannot be used within the framework. The Baldrige criteria sets a big picture roadmap for an organization or community, and while adopting this framework, we can apply Lean Six Sigma tools to help us achieve the level of excellence as outlined by Baldrige. If we rely on Lean Six Sigma alone, we may be streamlining processes and eliminating waste in many areas, but adopting the Baldrige framework will ensure that we are optimizing the entire system and achieving overarching objectives as a community rather than in siloes. That collaboration across entire systems and communities is what COE is all about and is what makes Baldrige crucial to our success.

Read more about Bianca Nguyen here

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