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Community Medical Center drew national attention Wednesday for its Joint Reconstruction Center as a runner-up for a national award given by USA Today and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The newspaper and the Rochester, N.Y.-based institute collaborate on the annual Quality Cup awards. They go to six teams around the country that have worked to improve the quality of the products or services their companies or agencies provide. USA Today ran stories Wednesday about the winners in the small-business and health care categories.

The top award went to the cardiac surgery team at the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in Pennsylvania for reducing infection in its heart surgery patients with antibiotic ointment that costs $12.47 a tube. Runner-up position was shared by the Rose Leadership Team at Rose Medical Center in Denver and Missoula Community Medical Center's Joint Reconstruction Center program.

The brainchild of Missoula orthopedic surgeon Doug Woolley, the program began in September 1999 with the idea of using a team approach to reduce the lengths of patients' hospital stays, reduce their pain and reduce their hospital bills when they have surgical replacements of hip and knee joints.

Woolley and Evelyn Seibel, Community's director of acute care services and the administrator who has led the program with Woolley, will travel to Rochester, N.Y., along with four colleagues on Thursday to give a presentation about the program on Friday.

"It's very exciting in several ways," Seibel said Wednesday. "One is that we have done something that does mean an improvement in quality of care for the patients."

Since the program began, the team has done 150 surgeries. Before the team approach began, Woolley's patients stayed in the hospital an average of 3.3 days with hip replacements; today, the average length of stay is 1.9 days. Knee replacement patients stayed an average of 3 days; the average has gone down to 2.1. Nationally, knee replacement patients stay 4.4 days in the hospital and hip replacement patients 4.8 days.

The new approach, which aggressively treats pain and gets patients up and walking within hours after surgery, is also reducing costs, Seibel said.

The hospital went through rigorous screenings and a late-March site visit, Seibel said.

"They really looked at the teamwork," she said.

Already on Wednesday, other hospitals had called Community to learn more about the program.

"Getting the award, of course, will bring us recognition," Seibel said. "It is different from the standard way of delivering health care."

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com.

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