That’s what Todd C. Linden, president and CEO of Grinnell (Iowa) Medical Center said during a panel on innovation at the H&HN Executive Forum yesterday. By “constantly turning to the community” to find ways to partner around common goals, Grinnell Medical Center has found ways to capitalize on ingenuity without breaking the bank.

For example, Grinnell Medical Center partnered with Grinnell College to study how copper surfaces could reduce hospital-acquired infections and, sure enough, biology students found that by using copper (instead of plastic and wood) on high-touch surfaces within a hospital setting (such as grab bars, keyboards, switches and sinks), they were able to dramatically reduce the amount of bacteria present. Grinnell Medical Center implemented copper coating on 16 surfaces in half of its surgery rooms, and reduced bacteria by 90 percent over an 18-month period. This ultimately led to a 60 percent reduction in HAIs.

“That’s a stunning kind of result, and for us it was just a matter of reaching into our community and finding a resource,” Linden said. “It’s not costing Grinnell any resources, and it’s bringing new knowledge to the field.”

For the organizations that have the means to spend on innovation: Try to look at the expenditure as a systematic improvement process, not just a one-time investment, says panelist Richard Gliklich, M.D., OM1 Health founder and CEO.

Through the Gliklich Innovation scholarship, which Gliklich funded at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital in Boston), a clinician is freed up of all responsibilities for up to two years “to just innovate,” Gliklich said. “What I’ve learned from it is that (a) it’s a good thing; and (b) [the hospital] still needs some innovation infrastructure” for the clinician’s ideas to take hold.

“Innovation infrastructure is a such a big hurdle, and it has to be addressed at the board level,” he said. Hospital leaders must ask, “Are we going to invest in that? Are we going to partner? What are our goals?”

Boards are crucial in determining these strategic goals from the outset, but often they’re an untapped resource, says Linden. Linden had been a hospital CEO for decades when he “started to realize there was a huge amount of wisdom around that boardroom that I wasn’t taking advantage of,” he said. “The idea of really grabbing their collective wisdom and moving from oversight to insight — I think that’s where a lot of innovation and ingenuity can come from.”

Getting the board’s analyses has proven to be “a real source of creativity” when it comes to process improvement, but how does an organization maintain innovative momentum?

“In our organization, it’s a shared responsibility. We don’t have one person in one department; we talk about it frequently,” said panelist Teri Fontenot, president and CEO of Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.

Panelist Randy Oostra, president and CEO of ProMedica Health System, Toledo, Ohio, said maintaining innovation is “pretty basic.”

“Encourage people, take some risks, try to give them some opportunities,” he advised. Just try to make sure, clearly, what your goals are.” For example, ProMedica’s goals involve innovation, but ultimately, “it’s about jobs,” Oostra said.

“Using our abilities to reach out to our communities is just really, really good from an evolving standpoint, and it’s also good for our business model,” he said.