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James W. Varnum National Quality Award presented to Project SEARCH

LEBANON, NH - The inaugural James W. Varnum National Quality Award was presented to Project SEARCH, a program of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), in a ceremony held on Wednesday, December 1, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Receiving the award were Project SEARCH co-founder Erin Riehle, MSN, RN, Sr. Clinical Director for Disability Services; and Dr. Linda Workman, Vice President of the Center for Professional Excellence at CCHMC.

The Varnum National Quality Award, named in honor of Jim Varnum, president of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital for more than 28 years, was established by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Board of Trustees to recognize "an outstanding national leader or team in health care quality improvement initiatives, especially improvements in which patients, families and staff work together to achieve organizational culture change." This inaugural award includes a dynamic, fully produced documentary video about Project SEARCH to serve as an educational tool and to help promote this pioneering program as it continues to evolve.

In presenting the award to Riehle and Workman, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Co-President Dr. James N. Weinstein, observed that Project SEARCH "is a bold, innovative venture that clearly embodies the spirit of Jim Varnum's legacy of service leadership, and the culture he created and fostered at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: one of support, respect, and trust."

Since its founding in 1998 by Riehle and Susie Rutkowski, MEd, Project SEARCH has profoundly changed the culture at CCHMC. Through this visionary collaboration among health care, education and support services, many young people with cognitive or physical disabilities (including Down syndrome, Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy), some who are former patients at CCHMC, have found meaningful jobs and more fulfilling lives. Participants not only learn skills that enable them to earn a living income, they also earn respect. Many have been able to move out of their family homes to live independently in the community.

Today, according to Riehle, "We have changed our culture, and we can guarantee that when you walk in that door, you will see somebody working here who looks like you." This has been inspiring especially to families who bring their children with disabilities to CCHMC for care. Project SEARCH has been replicated in more than 150 hospitals, businesses and government agencies, across the U.S. and abroad.

The James W. Varnum Quality Health Care Endowment Fund

Jim Varnum was a visionary health care leader for more than 40 years, an inspiring and bold innovator, and a responsible and responsive member of the national and local health care community.

During his 28 years at the helm of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, Varnum was an architect of progress for patients, their families, and staff. In recognition of his exceptional service, leadership, and lifelong commitment to quality health care, the Trustees of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital established The James W. Varnum Quality Health Care Endowment. Income from this permanent endowment supports local and national recognition of outstanding leadership in health care quality improvement initiatives.

Varnum retired from Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in April 2006, where he served as president since 1978. In 1983, he founded and was also president of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Alliance (now the New England Alliance for Health), a group of community hospitals (including Mary Hitchcock), behavioral health centers, and home health care agencies in Vermont, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Previously, he was chief executive officer of the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle and of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison.

Varnum has served on the boards of directors for several state and national organizations. He has earned many awards in recognition of his leadership, including New Hampshire Business Leader of the Year (1992) and American Hospital Association Award of Honor (2006).


Contact: Rick Adams
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

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