HED: Brining Baldrige home

Other 2006 Baldrige winners

- Mesa Products, Tulsa, Okla. - Small Business recipient

This 75-employee company uses electrochemical processes to protect metal surfaces from corrosion. They sell products and materials nationwide and provide technical and installation services regionally.

- Premier Inc., San Diego - Service recipient

The largest health care alliance in the United States, Premier provides group purchasing, performance improvement and other tools to 1,700 hospitals and 43,000 health care sites around the country

Read the text of Cheney's comments at www.djournal.com

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

WASHINGTON - Across the street from the Museum of American History, North Mississippi Medical Center made a little Mississippi history.

As a delegation of 63 hospital employees, physicians, board members and a volunteer waved blue and white clappers, NMMC President Chuck Stokes and North Mississippi Health Services chief executive John Heer formally received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award from Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday.

The Tupelo hospital is the first Mississippi company ever to receive the highly competitive, prestigious award.

"Mississippi has long been recognized for its poor health status, but today, we are striving to be the best and to serve as an example for others," Stokes said in his speech in the gilded hall of the Mellon Auditorium, which sits in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

The Baldrige Award, which was created by Congress, involves an intensive effort to identify a company's mission and apply that rigorously to improving how it operates. In 2006, some 86 organizations including 45 hospitals applied for the award. It was given in only three of seven categories.

"By rising to the top of the Baldrige competition, you've reflected great credit on yourselves, on your communities and on this great country of ours," Cheney told the groups from NMMC and the two other 2006 winners, Mesa Products of Tulsa, Okla., and Premier Inc. of San Diego.

NMMC has applied for the award the past four years, but its quality improvement journey goes back much further.

"It's a supreme validation of having done the right thing," said Karen Koch, who led the NMMC Baldrige Steering Committee and has worked on the hospital's quality improvement efforts for the past decade.

Hospital leaders will bring home a plaque and a Baldrige flag. The Stuben crystal trophy will arrive later. But the heart of the work that brought them to Washington will continue.

"Everything has come together," Heer said Tuesday. "But it's still not over. There's still the journey."

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