There are 6,164 employees at Adventist HealthCare. At least that is how many there were this morning. I’d like to get the number as close as possible, since this column is about integrity.

It’s a pretty safe guess that most of those 6,164 people attended the fourth grade, and that sometime during their studies they learned the word “integer.”  An integer is a whole number with no fraction. 7 is an integer. 7 1/4 is not.

Now, integer is the root word behind integrity, which started being used way back in the 15th century to mean wholeness—an easy step forward for integer. Soon integrity acquired both the meaning of soundness and goodness, in both physical and moral terms. We learned about integers when we are about 10 years old, and maybe the word “integrity” soon after that; our human family has been using the word for about 500 years or so—as a way to describe wholeness, soundness, and moral goodness.

At AHC we use that word every day, it is one of the core values included in our statement of mission, vision, and values—the standards by which we conduct our business and ministry.  All those values of wholeness, soundness, and moral goodness are included in the statement we make about integrity from our values: “Integrity: We are above reproach in everything we do.” But what does it really mean?

An answer to that might be found by looking at the work of our coding department—because all of those qualities—wholeness, soundness, moral goodness—are literally encoded in the work they do.  In a large and complex organization like AHC you might not even think about the coding department, but I can assure you that what they do is absolutely critical to fulfilling our mission, which is why I see them as such a good example of integrity.

When asked about their work, Michelle Cousineau, Senior Coding Coordinator and 17-year member of the AHC team, was able to describe it very succinctly: “Every patient that is seen, whether they are outpatient, surgical, inpatient, etc., has to have a record coded in the medical coding department.  We read every chart and assign a code or codes.  These records are transmitted to the state of Maryland. Our AHC entities performance rating is set by coding. This is a very specialized industry and there are not a lot of coders and the work we do is very specialized. We have very high standards in our coding department and provide extensive training for our coders.  We have extensive coding guidelines. We never want people to provide codes that the record doesn’t support.”

When asked about integrity, Michelle responded, “Integrity is an important part of the coder’s job.  Our integrity is what we have.  We expect all our staff to adhere to our value of integrity.”

How important is coding to our success at AHC? We’d be out of business without them.  Their work must be precise, technically proficient, timely, and above all complete, sound, and correct for us to claim integrity as one of our values.

It is telling that Michelle was quick to point out that the good results from our coding department come as a result of good teamwork, not just the work of the managers or of one or two people. She wants the story to reflect the whole picture, and not just part of it—which is just another expression of her integrity. I’m proud of our coders, all of them. Their work may not be widely known or discussed, but it is mission critical—and they personify our value of integrity.

I like this quote from Stephen Carter, “The life that is lived with integrity is a life of striving toward the good and the true. Integrity, in that sense, may be conceived as a journey rather than a destination, an effort to live according to one’s sense of duty rather than a sinlessness reserved for a handful of saints.”

I want to take that journey. I want my life and work—and the work we do together here at Adventist HealthCare—to truly embody that vision. It’s the pathway called integrity.