Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital Named One of Only 407 Hospitals in the Nation to Achieve 5 Star Status from CMS

How the unconventional style of a small community hospital within Adventist Health has created unparalleled results.


Located in Northern California, Willits is a frontier town that was settled in the 1850s by pioneering ranchers. Today, that maverick spirit endures. The small community is close-knit and eclectic with a strong streak of individualism and grit.

In many ways, the hub of this unique community is Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital. The 25-bed critical access hospital offers a range of services to improve the health and well-being of residents. It is also the area’s largest employer. The hospital was founded in 1927 by a stricken father whose young son died when he couldn’t access timely and accessible care. Today, that early vision of providing state-of-the-art care locally continues to motivate the Howard Memorial team to push the boundaries of what may seem possible in a small community hospital.

Setting a New Standard for Excellence System-Wide

“When we always put people first – whether it’s our patients, our community or our employees – great results come.”    — Jason Wells, President, Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital

The hospital’s distinct approach to employee engagement, community involvement and forging authentic connections with patients and families have earned it a 5 Star Quality Rating from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), top decile performance in patient experience and the #1 ranking within the Adventist Health System for employee engagement for the past three years – all while volume continues to grow and revenue increases. And in 2019, the hospital was awarded Gold Certification for Excellence in Person-Centered Care from Planetree International.

This across the board best-in-class performance has caught the attention of its parent company, Adventist Health, a faith-based, not-for-profit health care system with care centers across the West Coast of the U.S. and Hawaii. When examining what distinguishes Howard Memorial from its sister hospitals in the system, the Planetree culture has emerged as a key differentiator.

“Adventist Health Howard Memorial has led the system in many important areas including patient experience and physician and employee engagement.  Our scores consistently put us in the top 10% of hospitals in the nation and we attribute our Planetree journey as key to the culture that has been created here.  I believe we are well positioned to share our Planetree journey with the rest of Adventist Health as we elevate all of our hospitals across the west to top decile performance.”  – Jason Wells, President

Planetree: A Natural Fit

The hospital first introduced the Planetree model in 2011. The philosophy of empowering patients, encouraging healing partnerships and maximizing positive health outcomes by integrating optimal medical therapies with art and nature was a natural fit with the community’s longstanding values.

Planetree became a guiding force behind the design of a new hospital building that opened in 2015. The 74,000-square-foot facility features 25 private inpatient rooms in a setting designed to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. The hospital was built from the ground up to bring together the latest technology in healthcare design within a setting that promotes comfort, health and healing. A centerpiece is the hospital’s on-site garden, which provides seasonal fresh produce for the hospital’s dining room and patient meals. The garden also contributes to the local food bank and stocks a seasonal farm stand open to the public.

Patients as Partners

The building reflects an organizational culture that aims to humanize healthcare. Adventist Health Howard Memorial leads with a person-centered philosophy. Special attention is paid to preserving patients’ autonomy and honoring their personal preferences through room service dining, a range of complementary therapies and accommodations to help them maintain sleep and grooming routines.

The involvement of patients’ families is encouraged through patient-directed visitation and a Care Partner Program that enlists loved ones as members of the patient’s care team. Recognizing that informed patients and family caregivers are far better positioned to manage their health, the Howard team is emphatic about encouraging access to information. The bedside shift report process provides regular opportunities for patients to review their status and plan of care with caregivers. White boards in every room keep all members of the care team, including the patient and family, up-to-date.

An Empowered Workforce

What truly elevates the care experience at Howard, however, is the compassion exuding from caregivers. This steadfast culture of caring is possible because staff themselves feel valued, cared for and supported. The hospital has been intentional and insistent about creating a workplace of employee engagement. Leaders strive to over-communicate to ensure staff have the information    needed to do their jobs, but also to understand the current state of the organization and what the future holds. Daily huddles promote timely, face-to-face communication. Monthly open forums with the President encourage   communication with the highest level of management.

“Planetree is about empowering people to be their best self.  Our staff create more innovations and ideas for improvement when they are loved and cared for.” – Linda Givens, Chief Nursing Officer

In turn, empowered staff speak up with innovative solutions that have resulted in better care and improved operations. These engagement efforts have also emboldened staff, in the best possible way, to strike out to create truly  exceptional experiences. Consider the story of the patient who arrived to Howard for an infusion treatment having gotten a flat tire on the way. Already anxious, this flat tire was clearly a further source of distress. The Howard admitting clerk took it upon herself to get the tire changed while the treatment was underway. This was not only a testament to this individual’s caring nature, but to a workplace culture where staff embrace the opportunity to go the extra mile.

Caring When It Counts Most

This spirit of camaraderie, resourcefulness and compassion was on full display in the Fall of 2019 when the Willits community was beset by a grave wildfire season and prolonged power outages. The community sought refuge in a safe, familiar place they knew they could count on for comfort and support: Adventist Health Howard Memorial. The staff rallied to provide upwards of 1,000 meals a day for community members (far beyond the norm of 300).  The Clinic remained open despite not being able to heat the building, with staff bundled up in extra jackets continuing to see patients. Facilities and outpatient pharmacy personnel quickly mobilized to ensure anyone who needed a prescription filled wouldn’t have to do without. And the IT department proactively set up a charging station in anticipation of the need for individuals to charge cell phones and devices.

A Bright Future

Nonetheless, the hospital is hardly immune to the challenges facing small community hospitals. The COVID-19 pandemic, a nationwide opioid epidemic and continued national shortage of primary care physicians hit rural communities like Willits particularly hard. However, as these realities create challenges, the hospital’s entrenched culture is positioned to withstand the pressure. With an empowered workforce, a supportive community, engaged leadership and a clearly defined true north of person-centered care, this Gold-Certified, 5-Star Hospital is poised to shine bright and to radiate its exceptional approach to care throughout Adventist Health – and beyond.

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