Pictured above L to R : Gary Flannery, Executive Manager of Washington Auto Mall and Jennifer Trapuzzano, Marketing Director  of Washington Auto Mall

How it all Began

In 2011, Washington Health System established the Performance Improvement Initiative. The Lean method was adopted to help focus on growth and continuous improvement through process optimization. Lean, created by Toyota, relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by removing waste and reducing variation.

As a result of the initiative, the WHS Innovation Unit was created. In this unit, our team tests innovative approaches to improve patient care. When a process proves successful, it is then implemented in other areas of our health system.

Creating a Contest

In addition to creating the Innovation Unit, we invited all WHS team members to share their input and creative ideas in the form of a contest. In January 2019, an internal committee rolled out our first Spark Tank Contest aimed at inspiring innovation throughout our health system. We asked our staff to submit their innovative ideas for improving patient care, processes and service lines. Submissions were then rated by the unbiased rating system created by the Spark Tank Committee. Ratings were based on the perceived impact of each idea as well as the alignment with the health system’s core pillars: Innovation, Quality, Integrated System, Finance and Team. Once the top entries were identified, WHS employees selected the winning idea through a polling system.

President and CEO, Brook Ward, explains, “This contest is important to the Washington Health System for many reasons. We have amazing staff members, and we know they have great ideas and talents well beyond their specific area of work on a unit or in a department. We wanted to use the knowledge, expertise, and passion they have for our mission to provide great patient care. They are often taking care of their family, friends and neighbors; they, too, want to provide great care with great outcomes. We need our staff to grow the organization and we need their input and their help in implementing these ideas. They are our frontline and our heart.”

A Winning Idea

The committee received 48 entries during the inaugural year. After the elimination process, April Wokaly, an employee in the WHS Medical Records department, had the winning submission; an online meal ordering system. April’s idea will give WHS employees, as well as visitors, an online option to order their lunch and dinner from the cafeteria. The impact would include increased sales, shorter lines, and increased employee and visitor satisfaction in the cafeteria. Shorter lines will allow our team members more time to eat and enjoy their break.

Grateful for April’s idea, the committee provided her a small party for her and her fellow WHS employees, along with a trophy, a special Spark Tank coin and a cash prize. April made an additional impact by supporting a local charity with a portion of her cash winnings.

As a result of the Spark Tank competition, several other ideas that were submitted through the contest were put into action in 2020. It was so successful that we are now ready to begin the next round of the Spark Tank competition. Ideas can be submitted by any WHS team member before March 2021.

The Perfect Partnership

Over the past year, Washington Health System has shared updates about the contest with team members, donors and board members. After hearing about the contest and its impact, Ed Morascyzk, WHS Foundation Board and 1897 Society member, wanted to be an integral part of the innovation journey; he inquired about how Washington Auto Mall could be a partner in the contest. For Washington Auto Mall, it was a natural fit. They own the local Toyota dealership and loved to hear of our connection with Toyota through the Lean initiatives. Washington Auto Mall also believes in giving back to make the community to create a better place to live, work and play. As a result, Washington Auto Mall is sponsoring the 2020-21 Spark Tank contest.

“We have supported the Washington Health System for years because of the great work they do in the community,” says Gary Flannery, Executive Manager at Washington Auto Mall. “Especially during these difficult times, it is important to lift up healthcare employees. These people are the heroes our community depends on.”

“The relationships created through the Foundation are special,” says Sara Schumacher, Executive Director of the Foundation. She describes how supporters connect to the health system’s mission to provide great patient care.

“Relationships and trust don’t happen overnight,” Schumacher says. “It takes time to learn about how important the investment in WHS is to our patients. The WHS Foundation is the liaison between donors and the needs of the system. We share hospital needs with our community members, creating opportunities for them to invest in their own health. We have loyal donors – some have been donating for 40 years in a row!”

“When Ed approached us, I was excited about the possibilities,” Sara says. “I thought about how powerful it is when we share information. Washington Auto Mall and their team look for opportunities to impact the community. They have been a strong supporter of the Health System for over 20 years, sponsoring events such as WHSF Charity Ball and the annual Sporting Clay Shoot. They volunteer with many local nonprofit organizations. We realized that our missions aligned. We are grateful for their trust in us and in our team.”

With Washington Auto Mall as the sponsor of the Spark Tank contest, Washington Health System is able to fund the implementation of employee’s innovative ideas.

“One of the most important takeaways from this experience and our partnership with Washington Auto Mall is what we already know: share your story with everyone. Something we say or do may ‘spark’ a conversation that leads to a meaningful relationship. Trust in the process and stay hopeful for the future.”


To invest in Spark Tank or other needs at WHS, please visit whs.org or call the Foundation office at (724) 223-3875.