Go get ’em

Ag­gres­sively seek technology to up­grade ser­vices

Modern Healthcare - - From The C-suite - Steve Ron­strom

In the dy­namic world of health­care, it takes more than pas­sively sit­ting be­hind a desk and re­view­ing cen­sus num­bers and statis­tics to en­sure your hos­pi­tal is go­ing to sur­vive. Hav­ing a suc­cess­ful and profitable hos­pi­tal re­quires ag­gres­sive­ness and a will­ing­ness to em­brace in­no­va­tion.

This is the chal­lenge I faced more than 10 years ago when I ac­cepted the po­si­tion of CEO of 216-bed Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal, in Eau Claire, Wis. An af­fil­i­ate of Hos­pi­tal Sis­ters Health Sys­tem, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was strug­gling to sur­vive and ru­mors cir­cu­lated that the hos­pi­tal would close. At the time, I knew it was para­mount to find ways to at­tract and re­tain the best physi­cians and med­i­cal staff and keep pa­tients in our lo­cal com­mu­nity in­stead of los­ing them to hos­pi­tals in nearby cities such as Minneapolis or Rochester, Minn.

Part of my ap­proach to make Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal suc­cess­ful was to be ag­gres­sive. I firmly be­lieve that out­stand­ing health­care, ad­vanced technology and con­tin­u­ous in­no­va­tion should not just be­long in big cities or large aca­demic cen­ters. Ac­cess to the lat­est med­i­cal tech­nolo­gies is key to the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of an or­ga­ni­za­tion, no mat­ter the lo­ca­tion or size. So is a pas­sion for pa­tient care ex­cel­lence.

The first step that my lead­er­ship team and I took was to ex­pand the hos­pi­tal’s ex­ist­ing neu­ro­surgery ser­vice into a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram that of­fered the full spec­trum of neu­ro­sur­gi­cal care. Over sev­eral years, our hos­pi­tal made sub­stan­tial in­vest­ments in state-of-the-art tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing two “smart” op­er­at­ing suites equipped with ad­vanced in­tra-op­er­a­tive imag­ing and 3-D map­ping ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This was ac­com­pa­nied by in­no­va­tive physi­cian and nurs­ing lead­er­ship, im­proved pre-op and post-op care, and a so­phis­ti­cated ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture to sup­port it all.

In­vest­ments made to our neu­ro­surgery ser­vice line were more than just a mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity. These in­vest­ments cre­ated a “halo ef­fect” within our or­ga­ni­za­tion and el­e­vated the level of care in other ar­eas of our hos­pi­tal as well, such as in our emer­gency depart­ment, crit­i­cal care and multi-dis­ci­plinary teams. These in­vest­ments also en­abled our hos- pital to up­grade clin­i­cal re­sources in other ser­vice lines. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, we added an open-heart surgery pro­gram, as well as ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties in or­tho­pe­dics and can­cer care. These changes raised the case mix in­dex for these ser­vices from 1.19 in 2005 to 1.40 in 2010, while main­tain­ing over­all vol­ume.

The bot­tom-line im­pact of this in­crease in acu­ity has been dra­matic. Con­tri­bu­tion to over­head from neu­ro­surgery rose from break-even in 2002 to nearly $6 mil­lion in 2009, while con­tri­bu­tions from can­cer, or­tho­pe­dics and car­diac ser­vices are up 50% since 2005. As a re­sult, Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal’s to­tal op­er­at­ing mar­gin grew by nearly 2% per year since 2008 and has in­creased again in 2010, reach­ing lev­els not seen for 15 years.

These ini­tial de­vel­op­ments not only make pre­vi­ously un­avail­able ser­vices ac­ces­si­ble to the 450,000 res­i­dents of Eau Claire and our sur­round­ing re­gions, but they’ve also raised the stan­dard of care in the ar­eas we serve.

That said, there still was more to be done. Health­care re­form has cre­ated a lot of changes and un­cer­tainty in the fu­ture of health­care. To help our com­mu­nity bet­ter un­der­stand what is tak­ing place, and for our or­ga­ni­za­tion to bet­ter un­der­stand our com­mu­nity, we’re en­gag­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers in our up­com­ing fiveyear strate­gic plan­ning process. Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal and our sis­ter hos­pi­tal, 102-bed St. Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal in Chippewa Falls, Wis., are ask­ing our com­mu­ni­ties for in­put in chart­ing the fu­ture of their health­care sys­tem. The in­for­ma­tion we gather will be un­veiled in early 2011 with the launch of our new strate­gic plan, Imag­in­ing the Fu­ture: 2016.

While I un­der­stand that these ap­proaches may not work best for all hos­pi­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, I rec­om­mend that health­care CEOs take a step back, learn to be ag­gres­sive and em­brace the world of technology. You never know—it just may save your hos­pi­tal from clos­ing its doors. Steve Ron­strom is pres­i­dent and CEO of Hos­pi­tal Sis­ters Health Sys­tem’s western Wis­con­sin di­vi­sion, which in­cludes Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal in Chippewa Falls.

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