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MINNEAPOLIS -- St. Croix Valley Healthcare received the Gold Award and a $100,000 prize from the Buyers Health Care Action Group as the purchasing coalition's outstanding provider of health services.

Silver awards also were issued to Access Quality Care System, HealthEast Care and HealthPartners. This is the first year the BHCAG has presented its Excellence in Quality Awards to its provider groups, called "care systems."

St. Croix received the award by having the highest ranking in the three areas judged: clinical quality improvement programs, delivery of preventive care services and patient satisfaction.

The three silver award winners received the next-highest scores, and each will be given $50,000.

Also honored were Children's PHOM for special recognition for high patient satisfaction and Health System Minnesota for achievement in preventive care services.

The awards were created for providers to focus on cost and quality, said Carolyn Pare, director of benefits and risk for Dayton Hudson Corp. in Minneapolis and vice chairwoman of the BHCAG. "The results of our initial Excellence in Quality Award program illustrate that care systems are focusing on the right things," she said in a written statement. "All of the winners deserve recognition for their outstanding efforts to improve health care."

Patricia Drury, a senior consultant for the BHCAG who ran the awards program, said the group plans to present awards each year.

The BHCAG includes some of the largest employers in Minnesota, including General Mills Inc., The Pillsbury Co. and Dayton Hudson Corp., with 132,000 enrollees in 16 care systems.

Health plans honored

WASHINGTON -- Four health plans have been honored by the American Assn. of Health Plans as providing exemplary breast cancer treatment programs.

The four plans -- Humana Health Plan of Chicago; Keystone Mercy Health Plan of Pennsylvania; Kaiser Permanente of California, in partnership with WIN Against Breast Cancer; and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Massachusetts, in partnership with the American Psychological Assn. -- were picked by the AAHP's Women's Health Task Force from among the organization's more than 1,000 member plans.

The task force evaluated health plans based on five criteria: patient satisfaction; overall effectiveness; innovation; the quality and validity of the program's internal evaluation; and the ability of other health plans to implement similar programs.

All four honorees "are very attentive to individual needs of women," said an AAHP spokes-woman.

Each of the four plans was honored for a different aspect of care. Humana was cited for its system of tracking women's mammograms and its quick follow-up treatment. Under that program, more cases of breast cancer have been detected and the average time between detection and the start of treatment has dropped by more than a month.

Keystone was honored for its outreach to low-income women in southeastern Pennsylvania. The plan, the largest Medicaid managed care provider in Pennsylvania, partnered with community organizations and a local hospital. The partnership was able to double the mammography screening rate for members.

Kaiser Permanente teamed with the Women's Information Network Against Breast Cancer to provide for the psychological needs of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. The program pairs a breast cancer survivor with a woman newly diagnosed to provide support throughout the treatment process. As a result, 71% of patients were satisfied with the care, compared with 56% for other patients.

The fourth honoree, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Massachusetts, joined with the American Psychological Assn. and the Linda Pollin Institute at Harvard Medical School to create an intensive group psychological program. This psychological program gives breast cancer patients the opportunity to discuss their treatment and how to reduce the stress of the disease. The pilot program's goal is to see how this psychological intervention can enhance the effectiveness of traditional medical treatment.

The report is the first in a four-part series dealing with women's health issues. The three remaining reports concern domestic violence; obstetrics and prenatal care; and hormone replacement therapy. The reports are scheduled to be issued later this year or early 1999.

The project was funded by The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation.