Oregon Department of Human Services Director's Message
Nov. 19, 2010 DHS Director's messages on the web
To: All DHS and OHA employees
From: Bruce Goldberg, M.D., Director

How change needs to happen

"Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there."
~Virginia Burden

Recently, I have had several opportunities to meet people who have impressed me with their drive and passion to improve the care and service for people in need. Last week, I wrote about two community providers in Lane County who are doing innovative work in their services to children and people with disabilities.

This week I want to write about innovation with the team that processes applications for the Oregon Health Plan. I have visited with them and seen some of the work they are doing. I left that visit feeling excited and energized about what is possible when we let frontline people lead the way to improving our work.

Oregon Health Plan application processors
from left to right: Taesia Barsukoff, Karen House, Linda Burleson, Carlie Jackson, Ryan Schulze, Kate Hageman, Sarah Ottoson, Anthony Chase, Stephanie Lux, Melissa Kittrell, and of course Dr. Goldberg

At the OHP central processing center, about 90 employees work to review and process on average 10,000 applications for the Oregon Health Plan per month. This is critically important work. In a state with more than 600,000 uninsured people, we want to ensure that we do our job to get coverage to as many eligible people as possible. The people I met are key to that success.

Every single person has good ideas about how to improve things in his or her daily job for the benefits of the clients, their co-workers and themselves, but too often it can be difficult to get those ideas heard. That's where our Transformation Initiative and tools such as our "Lean Daily Management System" (LDMS) come in -- under this system, employees are encouraged and empowered to make suggestions for improvements.

During my visit I saw signs of continuous improvement in every section of the office. Instead of being filed away in a suggestion box somewhere, employee recommendations are taken seriously, reviewed by a team of people, and analyzed for viability.

Thanks to employee input since the OHP team went through Lean training last summer, there have been more than 60 improvement suggestions, most of which have come to fruition. Many are changes that eliminate the unnecessary and illogical barriers to getting work done that can make simple tasks frustrating. For example, due to employee suggestions, the computer systems at OHP no longer kick people out of the system at inconvenient times that force them to repeatedly log back in. Other improvements are about saving resources. For example, employees saw that when mailed OHP applications were returned to the state due to a bad address, the entire packet was thrown into recycling, including the pre-paid return envelope. Now those envelopes are reused and not wasted.

Each individual improvement adds up to an environment where people can challenge assumptions, ask questions, make suggestions for improving even more, and be heard.

"LDMS has transformed our work office," says Kate Hageman, a public service representative at the processing center. "Employees are feeling valued and are now interested in what is going on around us. We want to make a difference because we know the more lean we are in the office setting, the more Oregonians we can help."

Under this system, thing are changing for managers, too. Ryan Schulze is an operations manager at the processing center and he has been a vocal supporter of Lean Daily Management.

"What we are striving for is that any time there is something that needs to be worked on, it's really the staff that's getting together and talking about how change needs to happen," he says. "The manager's input comes from removing whatever barriers can be removed to make sure the change happens. This is a different approach. In the past we were so hierarchical that too often improvements were slowed down and didn't happen. Now I see our structure as horizontal, where managers are standing beside staff as we do our work."

Visiting with Kate, Ryan and the rest of the team affirmed for me that real change is happening in our agency and we are headed in the right direction. This is a team that is dedicated, creative, and driven to improve. The day I was there they were putting together ways to recognize employees for the ideas and contributions that made the most positive change in their work.

I am very proud of them and all the DHS and OHA employees who every day try to find ways to do our work better. When we succeed in this, not only do we improve service and save resources, but we become a better place to work. We allow our employees and ourselves to truly fulfill our mission of service to our clients and the public.

I know there are similar such stories in all parts of the agency and I hope you will share them with me for future messages. Also, you can learn more about how the Lean tools might be used in your workplace at this the Transformation training opportunities site on our intranet.

DHS on the web