Quality leader


Business people in southeastern Wisconsin may know Deborah Unger from her behind-the-scenes work in communications and public relations for area companies.
They’ll probably be hearing a lot more from her in the coming months in her new role as executive director of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, a Milwaukee-based organization working to improve health care in the state.
For Unger, who most recently worked for the Blue Horse marketing, communications and public relations firm and then on her own, the new position seems tailor made for her skills.
She holds a degree in organizational communications and English from UW-Milwaukee and earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership and quality from Fond du Lac’s Marion College.
"This is one of those rare opportunities to take that training and background and apply it in the workplace," said Unger in an interview at her Walker’s Point office. "My previous experience with start-ups and non-profits is also lending itself to this role."
The Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, founded last year, is a group of seven hospitals, six physician organizations, four health plans, employers and labor organizations from around the state. Other members are being courted.
The group was created to develop and share best practices and quality outcomes.
It recently announced plans to open its quality and cost-data reporting process to any Wisconsin healthcare provider that is willing to submit its comparative data, have it audited and published periodically on the collaborative’s Web site, www.wiqualitycollaborative.org.
MetaStar of Madison will serve as an independent auditor of the data, which currently includes 42 measures developed by the collaborative and published in its 2003 report.
"In 2003, the collaborative demonstrated that seven hospitals, six multi-specialty physician groups, four health plans and nine employers from across the state can work collaboratively to agree upon a set of common measures of healthcare quality and costs," said John Toussaint, chairman of the collaborative and president/CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare, a community-owned health system that includes three hospitals, ThedaCare Physicians and Touchpoint Health Plan.
"The next logical step is to open this reporting process to other healthcare providers and employers throughout the state," Toussaint said.
With Unger in the new executive director’s position and several months of work accomplished, the collaborative is entering its second phase, Unger says, getting ready to accommodate other health care providers and extending its reporting with a fuller complement of data.
"The greater value in the marketplace will come when more hospitals, physician groups and health plans report their comparative quality and cost data," said Christopher Queramn, CEO of the Alliance, a group of 165 members who work together on health-care issues for their respective 95,000 people in a 13-county region of south central Wisconsin.
"With credible, comparable quality and cost data, employers can begin to change the way they purchase health care and reward those providers with the best outcomes and more rational costs," Queram added.
Unger said the process so far has inspired members to strive for quality to an even greater degree, through sharing of best practices.
"The process has created what could be called a learning organization," Unger said. "It’s letting members grow in a new way."
The current members "are really making a bold statement that they are committed to continuous quality improvement and consumer orientation," Unger said. "The data we develop will help health care consumers ask the right questions and make informed decisions."
The collaborative is unique nationally, Unger says, adding that "Wisconsin is gaining a reputation for quality improvement initiatives in health care."
William Petasnick, president and CEO of collaborative member Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, called Wisconsin "a national leader in the emergence of initiatives to provide health care quality performance data for public reporting."
Petasnick said the collaborative is working with the Wisconsin Hospital Association to collect and disseminate the data.
The collaborative’s nine members finance the organization. Along with seeking additional members, Unger will also solicit contributions to the non-profit, including donations from business that, she says, would help to highlight "the importance of the information the collaborative is providing."
Unger, a member of the West Allis Rotary Club, has spoken to that group on the collaborative and is open to speaking to other groups about the venture.
A mother of two, Unger was a volunteer and then administrator of the Kidney Foundation here earlier in her career. She also helped launch Icebreaker, the predecessor of the former WinterFest in Milwaukee, worked for Kyle’s Corner, an organization for children who have faced the death of a parent, and this year helped plan for the Milwaukee City Birthday Party through her membership in the Milwaukee Press Club. Her current interests include yoga, exercising and nutrition, and exploring nature – except during Packer games.
But her work in taking the collaborative to the next level is keeping much of her attention.

Feb. 20, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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