Eleven hospitals across Maine, including Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, will participate in the Aligning Forces for Quality Hospital Quality Network, an innovative, nationwide program led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The AF4Q initiative is RWJF’s signature effort to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities, as well as reduce racial and ethnic disparities and provide models for national reform. Maine’s AF4Q initiative is led by Quality Counts in close collaboration with the Maine Health Management Coalition and the Dirigo Health Agency’s Maine Quality Forum.

During the AF4Q Hospital Quality Network, hospital teams will work together to improve the quality and safety of patient care by piloting and testing new quality improvement strategies over an 18-month period. More specifically, they will work to help reduce the amount of time spent waiting in emergency departments, ensure that patients who are discharged from the hospital aren’t readmitted because they missed important elements of their care, or improve how they communicate with diverse patients.

“There is a lot that is right about Maine’s health care system, including good hospitals with providers who care about people having access to safe, high-quality care,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, CEO of the Maine Health Management Coalition, in a press release. “But here, as everywhere, there are gaps in quality. We can help close those gaps so every patient receives excellent care every time. The selected hospitals are part of an effort to systematically improve care throughout Maine. We’re bringing together the people who give care, get care, and pay for care to make lasting changes right here at home.”

Two of the selected hospitals, Central Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital have already been involved in improving hospital communications during the past year through participation in the AF4Q Language Quality Improvement Collaborative.

As part of the Improving Language Services component of the AF4Q Hospital Quality Network, hospital teams will continue to work to improve the care of patients who speak or understand little or no English and will work to ensure that these patients receive their initial assessment and discharge instruction from a qualified language services provider. These two points in care are especially critical for ensuring that quality outcomes result.

Other components of the AF4Q Hospital Quality Network include Reducing Readmissions and Increasing Throughput (which refers to the process of getting patients through the emergency department in a timely manner, to be treated and released or assigned a bed). Slow throughput frustrates patients and doesn’t result in the highest-quality care. To increase throughput, teams will focus on making their emergency departments more efficient.

To reduce readmissions, teams will focus on cardiac care, with the specific goal of reducing readmission rates among heart patients. The initiative will focus on cardiac care because, whether experiencing a heart attack, heart failure or other conditions, the recommended standard of care for cardiac patients is clear and accepted among medical professionals nationwide.

Other hospitals participating in the AF4Q Hospital Quality Network in Maine are: Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, HD Goodall Hospital in Sanford, Maine Medical Center in Portland, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and Rumford Hospital.