During the Customer Experience Symposium on Sept. 7 in Washington, D.C., the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center (OGJVAMC) won the Best Experience Award for a level III (small, low complexity) facility, marking a fourth consecutive Excellence in Patient Experience Award for the medical center. 

OGJVAMC, located in Iron Mountain, Mich., was one of 13 VA medical centers recognized as top performers in employee and patient experience based on All Employee Survey (AES) and VSignals trust scores for fiscal year 2021. 

three men in front of flags for award presentation

Tim Ellison (center), Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center Veteran Experience specialist, and Dr. Mark Kadowaki (right), OGJVAMC chief of staff, receive the FY21 Best Experience Award for a level III facility from  VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal (left), during the Customer Experience Symposium in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 7. This is the fourth consecutive year Iron Mountain VA has won an Excellence in Patient Experience Award, the only VA system to have done so. (Photo by VA Photographer Eugene Russell)

These awards recognize VA hospitals that stand out for their consistent ability to deliver exceptional experiences, as determined by key patient experience (PX) measures while achieving the highest scores in leadership attributes, internal control assessments, and operational standards and measures. 

The facility also won the Best Overall Experience Award in 2021 and the Best Experience Award for level III facilities in 2019 and 2020. OGJVAMC was also awarded the 2020 ​Patient Experience Innovation Award Winner for Best Process Improvement for raising the level of inpatient Veteran satisfaction with the quietness of the hospital. A “Quiet at Night” PX Toolkit was even developed in collaboration with the VA’s national Veterans Experience Office. 

“The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center has a long-standing culture of providing excellent service to Veterans,” acting Medical Center Director Dr. Mark Kadowaki said. “This culture is exemplified by every employee being dedicated to serving our Veterans every day. It goes beyond job titles and work assignments; it’s a culture of community and caring.” 

It’s about empowering employees 

“We live and breathe by Own the Moment principles,” said Tim Ellison, OGJVAMC Veterans Experience officer. “We strive to get patient experience and AES data into the hands of our staff and get them engaged and take action to improve our processes. We are very employee driven.” 

How does OGJVAMC leadership engage its employees? By empowering them with the authority to act. To improve patient satisfaction, staff must be trained to know what’s right—and be empowered to do it. Frontline staff at OGJVAMC can participate in committees, improvement projects, leadership training, mentoring, Veteran-centric training and employee recognition programs. As staff are the faces that Veterans interact and transact with the most, they are highly influential in creating a great patient experience.  

This year’s success was largely due to maintaining an open-door policy with executive leadership, improving communication through town hall meetings, focusing on employee engagement, recognizing staff achievements and working with stakeholders to improve patient experiences.  

garden displayOne particular employee-initiated improvement project is the Adopt-a-Garden program. This popular program gives employees the chance to adopt garden boxes and fill them with plants and flowers to beautify the area. They even compete in a yearly contest for the best garden box. “This program just shows and embodies the pride and ownership staff have for the hospital,” Ellison said. 

OGJVAMC has also implemented several VA PX Toolkits and initiatives to improve the patient experience. Data and other metrics are constantly reviewed to determine trends in patient experience. In response to a downward trend in specialty care provider ratings, staff implemented Take a Moment, initially developed as the “Take Five” initiative, encouraging providers to take time out from all electronics and focus on listening to the patient for the first few minutes of the appointment or consultation. Within two months, specialty care provider ratings improved. 

“It’s a great hospital.”

Gerald “Ziggy” Ayotte, an Army Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, served in a mechanized infantry unit during the Vietnam War era. He spent ten months in Vietnam and two months in Cambodia during his tour. His time in service also includes eight years in the Army National Guard.  

Ayotte has received medical care at OGJVAMC since 1970. Over the past 10 years, he’s served as a VA Voluntary Service representative for Vietnam Veterans of America, and volunteers at the facility’s coffee desk every week.

He also entertains visitors with his guitar, offers wheelchair assistance, provides information and assists with wayfinding. 

“It’s a great hospital,” Ayotte offered in response to the facility’s award-winning success. “People here are just nice. I’ve always enjoyed coming here. There is just a sense of good feeling inside this place.” 

“Our priority is that every Veteran, even if they’ve felt marginalized by society in any way, is welcomed and shown that they belong here,” said Kadowaki. “The entire organization’s mission is to meet every need of every Veteran we have the honor to serve.” 

By Audrey Bhullar

Public Affairs Specialist, Veterans Experience Office

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Published on Nov. 9, 2022

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