Tag: Portage Health

Portage Health, Michigan Tech Join Hands to Solve Problems

Dr. Dana Johnson's Six Sigma and Quality Engineering courses worked with Portage Health last semester to applied what they learned in the class room to real-world situations.
Dr. Dana Johnson’s Six Sigma and Quality Engineering courses worked with Portage Health last semester to apply what they learned in the class room to real-world situations.

When Portage Health turns some of its problems over to Michigan Tech students, it’s a win-win situation. The hospital gets innovative solutions, and the students gain real-world experience.

Business and engineering students from Professor Dana Johnson’s Six Sigma and Quality Engineering courses worked with Portage Health on a series of projects last semester, enabling them to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life situations.

Six Sigma Fundamentals is a course on Six Sigma methodology, a data-driven approach for eliminating mistakes. Quality Engineering covers concepts and methods for quality and productivity improvement.

Johnson worked with Portage Health to find projects that challenged the students to put their classwork into practice.

“My role is to be the customer,” explains Mark Randell, director of rehabilitation and sports medicine at Portage Health. “The students meet with us, and we present the project ideas to them, saying ‘here is an issue we are having difficulties with.’ They act as consultants, investigating it and coming up with more questions, identifying the causes of the problem, and then they put together a plan for making changes.”

In one of the projects, the pediatric physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy department was facing an issue with the scheduling of appointments. They had noticed that they had a high cancellation or no-show rate, which was ultimately affecting their bottom line. The goal of the project was to see if the students could find a trend or common problem that explained these cancellations, and then to find a way to change how scheduling is done to address that issue.

Was the problem a particular date or time? What were the reasons for the cancellations? Did the rate go up when appointments were scheduled too far in advance? The students examined all of these questions. The information they gathered was used to implement some changes, and time will tell if the changes show an actual impact on the problem.

Another project took a look at employee transfers. Its goal was to help Portage Health find ways to automate the process of completing employee transfers. Destin’e Clark, a Michigan Tech alumna who majored in Operations and Systems Management and Marketing, applied Six Sigma tools to determine the root cause of inefficiencies and improvement opportunities for the employee transfer process. She is now working with the team to develop and recommend alternatives.

Portage Health and the students found the projects mutually beneficial.

“I have done projects with other departments and the experience working with the students has been fantastic,” said Randell. “They are very professional as consultants. It’s a win-win for Portage Health and Michigan Tech because the students get real-life experience solving real business problems. The students get to be a part of something useful, and we benefit from getting an outside view.”

The projects with Portage gave the students a look at what working in real business situations is like and how to handle themselves, both on the business side and the problem-solving side. “Experiential learning is critical to student experiences,” says Johnson. “It does come from more than Enterprises and Senior Design.”

The students are also very grateful for the opportunity to have this experience before stepping into their post-graduate careers. “Six Sigma and Lean practices are vital to a company’s success,” said Clark. “Being able to gain this knowledge and experience while still in school is exceptional and something employers will admire. The information and experience I obtained in this course is very applicable to my career. I currently work in transportation where Six Sigma techniques are used daily in improving our processes.”

This story was originally written by Erika Vichcales, student writing intern for Tech Today.


Getting Rid of the Bad Stuff

Tech MBA students at Portage Health
Tech MBA students at Portage Health

MBA student Cynthia Hodur learned firsthand about getting rid of trans fats, those ubiquitous bad food particles. On a student team in Dana Johnson’s operations and quality management class, she researched and applied her knowledge to a local hospital project and got great results.

“Instead of reading about it, we actually did it in a real-world way that will help the community,” she says of her experience on behalf of Portage Health. The hospital was the first in the Upper Peninsula to go trans-fat free, with help from the Tech students.

Hodur appreciated the opportunity to tackle such a timely problem with her team’s two-pronged approach, especially since she works as a facilities and event coordinator at the Memorial Union.

“First, our research group focused on policy,” she says. “We looked at what had been done globally, with the United Nations, and then we researched further from there: federally, state, and at the organizational level.”

She says the American Heart Association’s trans-fat lawsuit with McDonald’s restaurants was important. In the suit, McDonald’s was supposed to change its oil, but it didn’t. She had inside knowledge there, having worked for the American Heart Association at the time.

“We were working with the schools then,” she says, “building on an existing program.”

That background information also helped her at Tech, where her second group–applying the information they’d gleaned–looked at recipes and various food products to get rid of the trans fats at Portage Health.

“We looked at everything from cookbooks to working with vendors to vending machines,” she says. “We found substitutes for cooking, like applesauce for oil, and for baking, where a substitute for shortening has been used successfully, for example.”

Along the way, she learned from her teammates.

“There was a variety of people, and we were paired by interests,” she says. “One of the women was a Six Sigma Greenbelt expert on flowcharts!” So, Hodur’s process-chart-producing expertise was accelerated.

And they weren’t all MBAs, said Johnson, an associate professor in the School of Business and Economics. They had graduate students from civil engineering, mechanical engineering and elsewhere. Focusing on the same goal, Johnson said, they would come at it from different angles.

Johnson also stressed the importance of “students working with a real, live project, instead of case studies, which become outdated very quickly.”

The project did indeed take a well-rounded approach to the problem. “The students looked at cost benefits, working with vendors Sysco and Reinhart, even Portage Point (the hospital’s long-term senior housing operation), and its food service customer relations,” she said.

They worked closely with Paul Skinner, director of Portage’s nutritional services, she said. He was important from a management perspective, and he was in charge of recipes.

“We looked at processes and procedures to make sure they are accurate,” Johnson said, noting that they even looked at the definition of “trans fat-free,” which can still include .49 grams of trans fats. Portage Health went below that measure, she said.

“The costs involved in going trans fat-free were not as significant as they thought,” she added.

She also sees potential for future work.

“We plan on helping them with their seating capacity at Portage Health,” she said. “We’ll be working with them as they expand their capacity. We are also using a green perspective to identify environmentally friendly dinnerware.”

They also plan on looking at the recycling in the hospital to make it more cost effective and efficient, Johnson said.

“We’ll be looking at Styrofoam,” she said, “how it can work within a recycling system.”

This marks the fourth year for the class tackling problems for Portage Health, and she’s also placed three interns into the organization.

Hodur truly enjoys the graduate school experience, including the Portage Health project, and her position at the Memorial Union. She has her sights set on a future marketing position.

“My husband and I moved here because we love the area,” she said. “Working and taking classes at Michigan Tech have been a nice bonus.”

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This article was published in Tech Today on February 12, 2010 and written by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor of University Marketing and Communications.

TV6 News also covered this article.


Business Students Help Portage Health in Eliminating Trans Fats

Trans fats, often used for deep frying foods in restaurants, are being eliminated from 83 statewide hospitals.
Trans fats, often used for deep frying foods in restaurants, are being eliminated from 83 statewide hospitals.

While it is not always cost effective, dropping trans fats from your diet can help you avoid several health problems. It is linkage to these problems that has resulted in a voluntary initiative from the Michigan Health and Hospital Association to get rid of all trans fats in hospitals by the beginning of 2010.

During the Spring of 2009, Michigan Tech business and economics students worked with Portage Health to develop a cost analysis of the transition. According to Associate Professor Dana Johnson “We looked at the different suppliers and how they might be able to meet the trans fat reduction and looked at the dietary aspect and also looked at what change would be needed in the kitchen as well as inventory management.”

Tech MBA students at Portage Health
Tech MBA students at Portage Health

Read the full story from TV6.