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One-Team Culture: The Secret to Our Success

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has witnessed a dramatic progression and acceleration of its mission over the last several years. Our visionary founders recognized in 1892 the benefits of a freestanding hospital devoted to assuring that all children had access to quality care, regardless of their ability to pay and the institution’s leaders have always operated on that principle. Today, though, Nationwide Children’s has expanded to become a premier children’s health care organization that reflects the values and aspirations of its home city, Columbus, Ohio.

We boast a full range of innovative clinical services, extensive educational programs and enterprising research generating new cures and treatments. Nationwide Children’s has 25 sections within the Department of Pediatrics, 14 surgical services and eight other medical specialties. We provide care in more than 40 locations and had total operating revenues of $2.3 billion in 2017.

We are regularly ranked as one of the best places to work in the United States, awarded for our quality and safety programs, and consistently named to the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll list of best children’s hospitals.

How have we achieved these distinctions? I believe the answer is what we call our “One Team” values. While Nationwide Children’s has always abided by them in some way – they spring from our founding mission – my leadership team and I specifically articulated them soon after I joined the hospital in 2006. They are:

  • Do the Right Thing
  • Create a Safe Day Every Day
  • Promote Health in Ourselves and Our Community
  • Be Agile and Innovative
  • Get Results

They have fostered our remarkable culture as we have grown. I have announced that I will retire in 2019, and I believe our “One Team” values will sustain the organization after I leave.

Do The Right Thing

This value governs the rest and is sometimes stated in the form of a question: “What is in the best interest of the child and the family?” The first value is the answer.

All employees are annually assessed on how well their behaviors reflect these five values. Regardless of position or title, no one person is bigger than the organization, so new hires are encouraged to call out their managers and executives if they are not demonstrating the values. They are even instructed about how to do it during orientation. We also emphasize these values with potential recruits. As a result, we have a mission-driven staff who have chosen to pursue their professional aspirations at Nationwide Children’s, in part because of our values. One of the most gratifying results of our focus is the collaborative spirit that pervades this hospital.

It is important to note that Nationwide Children’s is a product of its city and could only arise in Columbus. Our community is often described as a quintessential Midwestern city, but the influence of place goes beyond such a simple characterization. We have something here we call the “Columbus Way,” an expectation of caring for others, of collaboration, of being intrepid, of openness that transcends the individual and informs this community’s organizations. Nationwide Children’s and our values are manifestations of the Columbus Way.

Create a Safe Day Every Day

Nationwide Children’s began a transformational effort to eliminate preventable harm in 2008 under the ongoing leadership of Richard Brilli, MD, our chief medical officer. Dr. Brilli has brought a laser focus on the culture change needed to reduce errors, engaging everyone within the organization in our comprehensive safety program called Zero Hero. We transparently acknowledge serious safety events, we track them, and we develop systems to address them.

Our industry-leading results in minimization of serious safety events – are available in the Quality section of our public website,, another example of our efforts at transparency. Our progress has won numerous awards, launched educational programs at this hospital and others and even spawned a first-of-its-kind journal, Pediatric Quality & Safety.

Dr. Brilli and his team have extended these quality and safety concepts to employee well-being with similar results.

Promote Health in Ourselves and Our Community

Above and beyond traditional academic medical centers’ roles, Nationwide Children’s believes that elite academic medical centers must go outside their four walls to address other societal issues that interfere with children’s ability to reach their full potential. Among the most important initiatives we have created for this purpose are Partners For Kids and the related program Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families.

Partners For Kids is one of the country’s largest pediatric accountable care organizations and takes on full financial and clinical risk for more than 320,000 children in central and southeastern Ohio. As a result, Partners For Kids invests in initiatives that improve care and focus on wellness. To take just two examples of our success, Partners for Kids has helped increase the number of preventative visits and well checks with primary care providers in our area; and a continuing focus on asthma management has led to a substantial decrease in emergency department visits for exacerbations. Partners For Kids is the only pediatric accountable care organization for which peer-reviewed data shows a bending of the health care cost curve.

Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families is our program to address social determinants of health. Focused on the three zip codes surrounding our main campus that are characterized by severe socioeconomic challenges, the project has attracted public and private partners throughout our area. Perhaps the clearest demonstrations of Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families’ impact are the 331 homes that have been improved or built since 2008, but the program also has an emphasis on workforce development, neighborhood security, educational opportunities and health and wellness.

Be Agile and Innovative

Nationwide Children’s has implemented several new and unique programs to better service our patients. Among others, these include the Motility Center within our Division of Gastroenterology, the Sclerotherapy Program for inoperable masses within our Division of Interventional Radiology, the multidisciplinary Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction, our Hybrid Congenital Cardiac Operating Suites, the 22q Center and the Tuberous Sclerosis clinic, all demonstrating the cross specialty collaboration central to patient-centered care.

We have made significant investments in several areas of genomics, including tissue banking, sequencing capacity, analytical talent, and most importantly, integrating the clinical and research efforts into one unit. As many conditions affecting children have a genetic component or predisposition, genomics will transform not only how we treat children but how we think about human disease.

Over the recent past, Nationwide Children’s has also recognized the growing gap between the behavioral health needs of our community’s children and adolescents and available services. Driven by the belief that mental health cannot be separated from physical health, we have developed and implemented a comprehensive plan to address the problem by dramatically expanding inpatient, outpatient and crisis capacity by investing in staff, facilities, research and advocacy. The most visible manifestation is the 400,000 square foot Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion scheduled to open in 2020. It will be the largest structure of its kind solely dedicated to pediatric behavioral health needs.

Get Results

Medicine is advanced when new knowledge is generated through research. The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital has experienced double-digit growth in funding over the past several years. This success is due to creating an infrastructure conducive to competitive grant applications, providing the core resources to conduct innovative science, and, just as importantly, making targeted investment in specific programs ranging from injury prevention to tissue engineering and gene therapy.

An early decision that has served Nationwide Children’s well was the construction of a Clinical Manufacturing Facility on campus to produce pharmaceutical grade products arising out of our gene therapy and cell therapy programs. This has sped our ability to support early clinical trials of our products as well as support several of the biotech companies that have spun out of Nationwide Children’s. A recent highlight was the phenomenal result of our gene therapy trial treating young children born with spinal muscular atrophy, a deadly condition typically resulting in death in the first few years of life. This study was voted by the readers of Science as the 2017 Breakthrough of the Year. This therapy has been licensed to one of the 13 startup companies that resulted from our efforts to commercialize the work of our staff and have generated millions of dollars to support our programs.

The Future

What does the future hold for Nationwide Children’s? With a far-reaching array of clinical services, research and educational programs, a strong financial foundation, demonstrated success with payment reform and a mission-driven culture, all embedded within a devoted greater Columbus community, we are poised to continue creating the future of children’s health care.

Our unmatched population data sets and advanced analytics capabilities will enable insights into prevention and chronic disease management that are unequalled at any other children’s hospital. Further, our investment in genomics positions Nationwide Children’s as a magnet for talent looking to elucidate the biochemical underpinnings of human disease. The future for Nationwide Children’s is bright and children’s health care everywhere will be inspired and influenced by this storied institution.

“The future for Nationwide Children’s is bright and children’s health care everywhere will be inspired and influenced by this storied institution.”
– Steve Allen, MD, CEO

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