Texas earned bragging rights this week, as it’s home to the two health care recipients of the 2014 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Receiving what the federal government calls “the presidential honor for performance excellence through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership” were a small, community hospital and a six-hospital health system.

Hill Country Memorial, a nonprofit in Fredericksburg licensed for 86 beds, won the award after getting honored for best practices in 2013.

St. David’s HealthCare system, an Austin-based joint venture between HCA, St. David’s Foundation and Georgetown Health Foundation, won its Baldrige after earning a site visit last year and winning the state version of the award in 2008.

Officials for both Hill Country Memorial and St. David’s say that it’s nice to receive the honor, but that wasn't the point of participating in the Baldrige award process.

"We never got on this journey to win — though that's amazing and we're super-excited — it was to improve," says Debbye Dooley, executive director of business intelligence for Hill Country Memorial.

Echoing that sentiment was C. David Huffstutler, president and CEO for St. David's HealthCare. "Obviously, our organization, our employees, our physicians are delighted. It’s something we’ve been working toward for a long time," Huffstutler says. " Though we have said from the beginning, while it would be nice to win the award, it really has been about the Baldrige process, and using it as a performance improvement tool."

That philosophy makes good sense in an evolving health care system in which eventually hospitals and health systems may only be as good as how well their last patient was treated. As quality data continues to be more available to patients and as those data become more useful, quality processes will get only more important.

The story of Hill Country should be particularly inspirational to leaders of smaller hospitals who are working to improve quality. Hill Country went from being average to the top 10 percent in many quality metrics over the course of about eight years.

Jayne Pope, CEO of Hill Country, says much of the work was a matter of educating staff and physicians. "The people here and their commitment to patients we serve, they've been here all the time," Pope says. "We put tools and structures in place to make sure that we were all rowing in [the] same direction."

Expect to read more about these two winners in the January issue of H&HN.

Comment below or via email, Twitter, and Google+.