SHARE Field Report from Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center

In early March, eight SHARE leaders and nine UMMHC management leaders visited Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center in Washington DC. SHARE has been studying the Kaiser Permanente unions’ progress in transforming culture. And we’ve been negotiating ideas from their model with our own hospital leadership.

This trip, however, was our first opportunity to see the work at Kaiser Permanente firsthand, up close, in partnership. Together, we got the chance to meet with our Kaiser counterparts (union leaders with union leaders, HR with HR, surgical and clinical management with management.) One of the key themes of the day was that partnership, and the benefits of partnership, are only as strong as its unions: "I've worked in a lot of different ways. And labor management partnership is the best," one labor leader told us. "But never forget you're a union."

At Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center:
Shenita Stewart (Pharmacy UBT Co-Lead, OPIEU Local 2),
Cliff Lovett (Pharmacy Manager & UBT Co-Lead),
and Wendy Williams (Improvement Advisor, UFCW Local 27)


The cornerstone of our 2016 contract agreement, Unit-Based Teams, is based on a model that Kaiser and its unions pioneered a decade ago. We have launched our first six here at UMass Memorial in the last few weeks, and co-sponsors of those new Teams got to look under the hood at some established, long-running UBT’s in Washington.

Our contingent met directly with the co-leads of the Unit-Based Team from the Pharmacy at their Capitol Hill location. The two co-leads of the UBT, Shenita Stewart, a Pharmacy Technician and union member, and Clifford Lovett, the manager were proud of two highly successful improvement projects their department had worked on: getting prescriptions more quickly to patients, and increasing sales of Over-the-Counter drugs. For each project, their team experimented with improvements, systematically. They tried some things that didn’t work . . . and when they realized those ideas wouldn’t pan out, they quickly stopped. They landed on some things that really worked. 

Shenita told us that some of her co-workers didn't believe that UBT would make a difference at first. She acknowledged that their department still has issues to work on, but says that morale is much higher, attendance is better, and she’s seen a lot of improvement in the culture.


Some SHARE and UMass Memorial folks got to sit-in on a UBT meeting in the Pediatric Subspecialty Clinics. "It was fascinating to see consensus decision-making in action," said Bobbi-Jo Lewis from SHARE. "The co-leads went around the group, asking what each person thought, before they went forward. The group agreed to take on a project to explore sending thermometers home with families, even though it was only important to some of the sub-specialties, because they decided to support each other."


Some Kaiser Permanente UBT’s involve patients directly in their Improvement Projects. For example, they might invite a patient with a particular complaint to come talk to the department. Lu Casa, a UFCW Local 400 union member and UBT Co-Lead in the Adult Medicine Department, described her department’s efforts to manage blood pressure rates at the population-level in their community. You can see about that for yourself in the video below. It’s a fun one . . .


In DC, we learned much more about how to start a UBT on the right foot, and to ensure that it is genuinely co-led by management and labor.  We also learned about the things the Kaiser unions have been able to achieve in partnership that they were not able to do through adversarialism.  

SHARE Co-President Rita Caputo said that her biggest regret about the trip was that they couldn’t stay longer and dig deeper into how the employees there go about solving particular problems. She really appreciated how open the staff were, “They were so efficient and thorough and knowledgeable, and completely willing to let us pick their brains.” It was apparent to Rita that their experience showed them what worked. “They’re normal, like us,” she said, “and they’ve figured out for themselves how to keep making things better.”

One of the side benefits of the trip was spending so much time with our management partners.  We returned to Massachusetts with a deeper appreciation of one another’s strengths and challenges, as well as a stronger sense that we can achieve more for our members and the people they care for if we approach one another as allies rather than adversaries.

SHARE and UMass Memorial manager Co-Leads and Sponsors with Kaiser Permanente management and union leaders