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President's Perspective: Making the Metal Dance

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Picture this: driving down a street that looks like it could be out of an urban Mad Max movie.  Concrete towers, steel pipes big enough to walk inside, a deserted horizon, then more asphalt, concrete and red hot molten ore pouring into the ground.  Oh, and we’re still in Cedar Rapids.  Who knew?All that happened one day last month when several of us were invited to visit the local facilities of PMX Corporation.

Their factory is located at the end of Waconia Avenue SW and to get to it you have to drive through what looks like the middle of the massive ADM facility.  Trust me, I’d never been there before.  Didn’t know the street existed let alone the plant and was even more surprise when I learned what they did there.  PMX takes copper ore and scrap, and together with other metals creates copper alloy that is first melted, then poured into twenty foot long molds in the ground to form eight inch thick, thirty inch wide and twenty foot long ingots of different mixes of metal with copper.  Later those ingots are heated red-hot again and rolled through a milling machine that turns that ingot into three hundred foot rolls half an inch thick then again into rolls that can end up miles long. 

But the key to their business is not the milling, it’s the mixing.  Beyond the purely mechanical work of turning a multi-ton ingot into a roll of aluminum thin copper, it’s the ability to make different combinations of metals each with unique properties that is their real value proposition.  Those alloy rolls are then sold to different manufacturers to turn into a host of products, the most common of which is perhaps the coins in your pocket.  Who knew that more than half the coins minted by the U.S. Government started here in Cedar Rapids?  Not yours truly. 

Fascinating, but not why we were there.  We were there because PMX had an alloy they couldn’t understand why St. Luke’s and other health care organizations around the world weren’t begging for.  They call it MicroGuard.  It’s a copper alloy mix that comes out roughly the color of platinum and one of its unique properties was that it kills bacteria, constantly, and they have the data to prove it.  Unlike other surfaces you have to regularly clean to kill bacteria, but are constantly re-contaminated as soon as someone touches them, this product kills on its own each and every minute of the 24 hour day.  Yet, even in infection conscious environments like our own, no one seems to care. 

The reality is a bit messier than that.  Their price point is an issue.  The alloy is about twice as expensive as stainless steel, and multiples of plastics, but still, they wanted to know, what would it take to make healthcare providers see the value of something that could protect patients in between the twice-daily or even less frequent cleanings of all the bug-transmitting surfaces in our facilities? 

In itself, that was a great question, but not the point of this story.  We are going to try to come up with some ways to test the alloy at St. Luke’s, partly in hopes of looking for an innovation that will improve patient care and partly just to support a local company whose product, if it took off, could be good for everyone including our community.   But what was of most interest about the day to me was how they characterized their company mission.

As Tom Bobish,  Senior VP of Sales and Marketing put it, PMX’s constant goal was to find ever new and better ways “to make the metal dance”.   In other words their work focused on taking already wonderful, natural things as they were and to daily look for new combinations, new ways of putting things together, that would create entirely new, and sometimes unexpected, value.  Finding that new capability, new property, new possibility, was getting the metal to dance, to create something original, almost artful, and in its own way beautiful.

At first I thought, “What a wonderful way to put it”, and then I realized, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do at UnityPoint.  Today our driving force is to transform ourselves and our industry into something that takes the separate services we’ve always provided and put them together in new and different ways to create new values for our patients.  Today we are trying to coordinate our services better to re-center the patient’s convenience in our model of care.  We’re working to partner with these same people to actually keep them healthy and to need our services less, and to reduce their costs when they do.  We’re trying to put in play all parts of the care continuum from home health to hospitals and e-visits.   Put it all together and it translates to a better quality of care for all. 

What we heard at our UnityPoint Leadership Symposium this week is that we’re not like most systems. Our keynote speaker works with health systems around the world and he told us we are different.  While other folks talk the game, we’re walking the talk, we’re well ahead of the curve, and that was exciting and inspiring to him, let alone us.  We might call it living the brand, or giving the healthcare we want our loved ones to receive, but in the end in our own way we too are trying to “make the metal dance.”

And it feels good.