St. Luke’s welcomes new coordinator of Lean Principles

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013

St. Luke’s Hospital is pleased to announce Hans Palma has joined the staff in a new position designed to coordinate Lean improvement efforts at the hospital.

Lean is a philosophy of continuous process improvement that was developed for manufacturing but has since spread to every business sector, including healthcare.

Lean management was originally developed by Japanese automaker Toyota after World War II, in an effort to streamline manufacturing by eliminating waste and costly inventory. Lean has become recognized as the premier process improvement system in the world and has gained traction in healthcare resulting in significant improvements in safety, quality, lead time and financials.

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As the Lean coordinator for St. Luke’s, Palma is assisting the Senior Leadership Team, department managers and hospital staff to gain a better understanding of how to use Lean principles to expose inefficiencies.

While hospitals certainly don’t operate in assembly-line fashion, the healthcare industry must operate in a structured way of continuously exposing and solving problems, explained Ken Shull, chief executive officer for St. Luke’s Hospital.

“The goal for Lean is to deliver value to our patients. If a patient doesn’t benefit from a part in the process, that part has no value to them and we need to assess if that part can be eliminated,” Shull said.

Palma added, “Basically, we will look at various processes throughout the hospital, map them out and see what parts of the process add value in the patient’s eyes and which ones don’t. Those parts that don’t add value we will minimize or eliminate altogether.

“For those used to always doing things the same way, Lean thinking is a bit of an adjustment.  But so far, the majority of St. Luke’s employees I’ve spoken with have embraced the new philosophy with great interest,” Palma said.

Lean thinking is not typically associated with healthcare, where wastes of time, money, supplies and good will is a common problem. But the principles of Lean management can work in healthcare in much the same way they do in other industries.

Lean engages all levels of an organization to eliminate wastes and add value. Wastes can include things like time spent waiting for a service or a report. Or it can mean inventory or supplies that can expire or get lost ‘in the system.’

St. Luke’s Hospital recently joined a statewide collaborative to implement Lean practices in the delivery of healthcare for efficiencies and patient satisfaction. St. Luke’s Hospital is working with Lean specialists affiliated with N.C. State University through a grant from the North Carolina Hospital Association’s Office of Rural Health. For more information about Lean management and principles, visit or

Shull said other hospitals in North and South Carolina undergoing this transformation with funding through the Duke Endowment are having great success with customer satisfaction, improved efficiencies and employee engagement.

Palma brings enthusiasm and experience as a Lean intern and as a business analyst. He received a BA degree in business with operations management concentration from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Prior to moving South, Palma worked at St. Mary’s Healthcare to implement a computerized system for time and attendance and gained great experience in changing the hospital’s culture. He lives in Spartanburg where his wife attends Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“People here are excited about the new patient wing under construction,” Palma said. “They’re energized and ready for more positive changes that will ensure St. Luke’s Hospital will continue to provide exceptional care, close to home.”

–article submitted 

by Kathy Woodham