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Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona receives Patient Safety and Quality Award from Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association

Long-term acute care hospital recognized for improving its acute ‘transfer-out’ process

TUCSON, Arizona (Nov. 9, 2023) – For its process improvements that have reduced the number of unplanned acute transfers of its patients to other facilities, ScionHealth's Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona was honored recently as a recipient of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association’s inaugural AzHHA Patient Safety and Quality Award.

Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona, a 34-bed long-term acute care hospital located at 7220 E. Rosewood St., was one of eight hospitals or health systems statewide to receive an award during the AzHHA’s 2023 Quality Awards Luncheon on Oct. 25. Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona, which specializes in treating medically complex patients recovering from serious injury and illness, received the Patient Safety and Quality Award in the critical access/small rural hospital classification.

The AzHHA collected and judged submissions for the inaugural Quality Awards, which recognize Arizona’s leaders who are committed to advancing healthcare through exceptional quality performance, community engagement and a culture of continuous improvement.

“For a long-term acute care hospital to receive this award is a real recognition of our position in the continuum of post-acute care and that we do everything we can to be the hospital that completes a patient’s care and gets them back home, not back to the hospital,” said Debora Bornmann, CEO of Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona. “It’s a huge compliment, and it highlights how seriously the team takes their responsibilities to make sure we can manage patients properly when they come to our hospital and keep them out of the hospital again.”

Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona was honored for its submission, “Acute Transfer Out Process,” which outlined the hospital’s journey to improve the process by which patients are evaluated for, then make unplanned acute transfers out of the hospital. The improvements included steps taken to prevent and reduce the need for the so-called transfer-outs, which disrupt the continuum of care and the patient experience. Creating a uniform acute transfer-out process helped develop a culture of high standards of care and outcomes, according to AzHHA.

“The quality of submissions and winners reflect the tremendous work that is happening in our communities across the state,” said Ann-Marie Alameddin, President and CEO of AzHHA. “Congratulations to our award winners who are working every day to pursue excellence in quality and patient safety.”

Unplanned acute transfer-outs like those addressed by Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Arizona Southeast occur when a patient leaves a hospital for another facility in order to receive a higher level of care or a treatment, procedure or test that is not available on-site. The patient may end up readmitted to a short-term acute care hospital – an outcome that is not ideal for the patient or the hospitals. 

In a three-month project guided by Director of Quality Management Paula Allen, Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona set out to reduce its number of transfer-outs. It brought together an interdisciplinary care team, including representatives from the pharmacy, respiratory, nursing, therapy, and case management departments, to conduct a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) of the entire process involving acute transfer-outs, including identifying all potential reasons why a patient may transfer out. The Cornerstone team also collected input from receiving physicians and quality staff from other hospitals where Cornerstone patients may be sent for diagnostic testing or for emergencies. This helped identify ways to streamline the process so that patients ultimately return to Cornerstone.

Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona established clear protocols and algorithms and implemented staff training for how to manage patients who may need to go to another hospital for a service. The hospital has also prioritized early identification and intervention for changes in patient condition that, if left unaddressed, could lead to transfer-outs.

Since the start of 2023, the hospital’s rate of patient discharges that are unplanned transfer-outs has dropped from 18 percent to 8 percent.

“Every time a patient is transferred out, the individual encounters a new care team and sometimes a different hospital from where they received their original care,” Bornmann said. “For continuity of care and better patient outcomes, we want to be able to take care of patients with the same team here in our hospital. The results of our project led to fewer transfers and better continuum of care for our patients. We have seen our readmission for unplanned transfers go down significantly.”


ABOUT CORNERSTONE SPECIALTY HOSPITALS SOUTHEAST ARIZONA: Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona, located in Tucson, exists to care for patients in need of intensive and specialized care. Designed as a bridge in the continuum of care, patients who transition to Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona from a traditional hospital/short-term acute care hospital receive a customized treatment plan from a dedicated team. The 34-bed hospital is recognized as a Center of Excellence in Long-Term Acute Care and a Center of Excellence in Nursing Services by the Center for Improvement in Healthcare Quality.  Located at 7220 E. Rosewood St., Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals Southeast Arizona is part of ScionHealth, a national health system which is the United States’ largest provider of long-term acute care. More information: