Working at VITAS, VITAS Values

Performance Improvement Specialists Focus on a Key Healthcare Metric: Higher Quality Care

October 23, 2020

Kimla Stewart, RN and performance improvement specialist at VITAS, faced a challenge. A patient’s family members felt unprepared to address agitation and restlessness in their loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Kimla helped solve the issue.

Working with the team manager and other VITAS experts, Kimla assembled training materials on anxiety, restless, and agitation. Armed with newfound knowledge, our care teams passed it along to family caregivers, creating a win-win for employees, patients, and their families.

Here’s What Our Performance Improvement Specialists Do

Kimla has been a hospice nurse for 40 years and since 2016, she has been a performance improvement specialist with VITAS in Collier County on Florida’s Southwest coast. At VITAS, performance improvement specialists are key team members who combine their on-the-ground experience as healthcare professionals with their knack for details, data, and a dedication to identifying problems and defining solutions.

“Education reduces fear, it builds confidence, and it slows down anxiety.”-Maryann Watson, VITAS performance improvement specialist

They work closely with team managers and hospice care teams to help those frontline staff fulfill one of the company’s four corporate values: “I will do my best today and do even better tomorrow.”

“When you have people who are passionate about quality, it becomes a shared passion,” says Kimla. “You can get the staff to feel what we’re feeling, and that kind of focus is powerful for any healthcare provider.”

The specialists function as healthcare jacks-of-all-trades, in some ways. They analyze data for trends and outages. They pore over surveys from family members whose loved ones were cared for by VITAS, looking for responses that indicate strengths, weaknesses, and areas for continued improvement. That’s how Kimla discovered an opportunity to better serve family members of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

They also brainstorm with team managers and members of each interdisciplinary hospice team — physician, nurse, aide, social worker, chaplain, volunteer, bereavement specialist—about gaps and solutions.

Based on their findings, they then shape solutions large and small that deliver the best possible end-of-life care to our patients, ensuring that VITAS—the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care—can fulfill its mission while meeting ever-evolving industry metrics and benchmarks.

Solutions might include new training, a change in care protocols, new sources of data or new methods of data entry, increased communications to team members, and team-building initiatives that reinforce the importance of quality and continuous improvement.

‘Quality of Life All the Way to the End of Life’

“I love the data, I love finding a trend, I love watching a negative turn into a positive, I love the good results that come with this position,” says Tuesday Riegen, performance improvement specialist for VITAS in Citrus County, FL, for two years.

“I love to watch the staff smile when they see the pages of positive comments they receive from families.”-Tuesday Riegen, VITAS performance improvement specialist

“I love to watch the staff smile when they see the pages of positive comments they receive from families. I love to help my co-workers figure out solutions to problems. Even though I don't have direct patient/family contact, which is one aspect of healthcare that I miss, I do know that my work makes a difference.”

To a person, the VITAS employees who focus on continuous improvement say that each project and each success fuels their ability to grow and apply newly integrated knowledge to each new project and initiative.

Meeting challenges, says Maryann Watson, a former oncology nurse and performance improvement specialist in Broward County since 2013, revolves around education for hospice care teams, patients, and their families.

“Education reduces fear, it builds confidence, and it slows down anxiety,” Watson says. “It makes for a stronger relationship between healthcare providers, patients, and their families. There’s so much more we can do to support quality of life all the way to the end of life, to give people a legacy. That’s the goal of the performance improvement specialist.”