KU MBA students examine no-shows at Bert Nash, other nonprofit problems

It’s a $350,000-per-year problem for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center: clients who don’t show up for appointments.

Now it’s a problem Bert Nash leaders might be able to tackle better than ever before, thanks to a group of Kansas University Master of Business Administration students who before last fall knew nothing about “no-show rates.”

“It was like, we could have been looking at some of this before? Why didn’t we work on that?” Bert Nash director of operations Janice Storey said.

The answer to that, Jake Esau says, might have to do with something that can be the case for any organization or business: everyone’s so used to the way things are done that they don’t take a look at how things could change. That’s where his group of seven MBA students came in. That group and four others spent this school year working with Kansas nonprofit organizations to come up with some solutions to tough problems, as part of a new program introduced by the KU School of Business this year.

As part of this program, called the Kansas Impact Project, all of the roughly 40 students in the first year of the two-year MBA track studied the problems throughout the year and proposed their solutions during a gala Thursday at The Oread hotel. Esau, one of the students working on the Bert Nash project, said this work was mostly done outside of their class requirements.

“Grades are not the motivation behind this,” he said.

Last year, KU business faculty used their personal connections to contact some organizations and ask them about problems they might like solved with a bit of business acumen, said Cathy Shenoy, MBA program director for the business school.

“We wanted students to be involved in their community and their world and at the same time get practical experience working on a management problem,” Shenoy said.

Bert Nash officials proposed that the students help them cut down on their no-shows. It’s a problem any community mental health center faces, Storey said. It costs the center money, and it leaves gaps in therapists’ schedules that could be used to treat more people who need mental-health services.

“We have limited resources, and we want to use them wisely,” Storey said.

Esau and his teammates looked at data Bert Nash had collected and distributed surveys to clients. They found that Bert Nash’s no-show rate — which ranges from 20 to 25 percent of clients, depending on how it’s measured — was actually on the low end among community mental health centers in Kansas, some of which only have about half their clients make their appointments.

But they found something else interesting, too: Nearly half of the clients they surveyed who had missed appointments didn’t make it simply because they forgot — not because their schedules were too busy, they lacked transportation or had another issue. About 80 percent of those clients said they would have made it if they had a reminder.

So one component of the students’ solution is simply to make reminder phone calls, expanding a system already used by Bert Nash.

While the MBA students were learning about the value of serving their communities, Bert Nash leaders learned a bit, too, Storey said.

“We didn’t lose our heart, but we kind of gained a little bit of the business savvy,” Storey said.

Two other groups worked on issues relating to food in Douglas County. One investigated what it would take to create a regional “food hub” to help local farmers sell their produce more widely, and another tryied to measure the economic effect of local food in the county.

Another student group evaluated the business model of Central Exchange, a Kansas City-area women’s career-development group.

And one aimed to help Ashland Healthcare Center, located in a southwest Kansas town of about 850 people, recruit and keep qualified nursing assistants to work with elderly residents in its long-term-care facility.

Benjamin Anderson, the center’s CEO, said the changes suggested by the students were already making a difference, proving that businesspeople and social-service workers could work together and learn from each other.

“We now consider you part of our community,” Anderson said.

Next year’s MBA students will be part of even more communities. Shenoy said eight nonprofits are signed up to take part in the program for 2013-14, and more are on a waiting list.

“Next year we’ll be in a much larger venue,” KU business Dean Neeli Bendapudi told those in attendance at Thursday’s event.