For Pied­mont New­ton Hospi­tal CEO, the chal­lenge is on

The Covington News - - LOCAL - Rob Levin COLUM­NIST Rob Levin is pres­i­dent and ed­i­tor of a book pub­lish­ing com­pany in Cov­ing­ton and is a for­mer na­tional fea­ture writer for the At­lanta Con­sti­tu­tion.

Eric Bour breezes into the con­fer­ence room at Pied­mont New­ton Hospi­tal, right on time for his ap­point­ment, nei­ther a minute early or a minute late. As the new CEO of the Cov­ing­ton hospi­tal, barely in town for two months, the de­mand on his sched­ule is heavy, yet he gives the im­pres­sion he has all time in the world for you, never once look­ing at his phone or sneak­ing a glance at his watch.

The task fac­ing Bour (rhymes with four), is daunt­ing and by any mea­sure, he has his work cut out for him. Em­ploy­ment at the hospi­tal is way down, ER wait times are too high and pa­tient sat­is­fac­tion needs a com­plete trans­fu­sion. There’s a lot rid­ing on whether Bour suc­ceeds: As the county’s fourth largest em­ployer, with $85 mil­lion in rev­enue, any shifts at the hospi­tal have a rip­ple ef­fect on the lo­cal econ­omy. The qual­ity of the lo­cal hospi­tal often fac­tors into a busi­ness’s de­ci­sions when con­sid­er­ing re­lo­ca­tions.

In dis­cus­sions with county of­fi­cials, Bour re­called they told him, “It’s not that we have a bad re­la­tion­ship with the hospi­tal; it’s that we don’t have any re­la­tion­ship, and thus re­build­ing those re­la­tion­ships in Cov­ing­ton is the first thing that caught my eye.” Al­ready, he has be­gun meet­ing with cor­po­rate lead­ers about health care needs and has plans to im­ple­ment more com­mu­nity-in­volved func­tions.

On pa­per, it cer­tainly ap­pears that Pied­mont Health­care, which pur­chased the hospi­tal two years ago, has found the right man. Pre­vi­ously, Bour ran Hill­crest Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal near Greenville, South Carolina, where he en­gi­neered a 90 per­cent re­duc­tion in “leave with­out be­ing seen” in the emer­gency depart­ment, a dra­matic im­prove­ment in on-time start rate in the op­er­at­ing room, a large re­duc­tion in surgery turnover time, and strong rev­enue growth.

When he left, Hill­crest ranked above the na­tional aver­age in vir­tu­ally every met­ric of pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ences, ac­cord­ing to the Hospi­tal Con­sumer As­sess­ment of Health­care Providers (HCAHPS), the data from which is avail­able on Medi­, which tracks all pa­tients, not just those on Medi­care. By com­par­i­son, New­ton County’s hospi­tal ranks below the state and na­tional av­er­ages on every mea­sure­ment. The sur­vey per­cep­tion, and does not re­flect qual­ity of health care de­liv­ery or out­comes. But per­cep­tion, as the ex­pres­sion goes, is 90 per­cent of re­al­ity, and it’s that word of mouth of the pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence—es­sen­tially, cus­tomer ser­vice—that can have an im­pact when peo­ple have an op­tion or a com­pany is con­sid­er­ing re­lo­cat­ing.

One of Bour’s first tasks was to keep the am­bu­lance ser­vice as part of the hospi­tal and be­gin­ning last week, the hospi­tal be­gan dou­bling the ca­pac­ity of the emer­gency depart­ment, which is often packed cheek to jowl. The $10 mil­lion project was au­tho­rized prior to Bour’s ar­rival and with the ER greatly ex­ceed­ing ca­pac­ity, the 18-month job quickly be­came a priority.

Oc­cu­py­ing a hospi­tal’s C-suite was not on Bour’s hori­zon while grow­ing up in Ox­ford, Penn­syl­va­nia, a town less than half the size of Cov­ing­ton. A col­lege tour took him to New York on a cold, bat­tle­ship-gray day, and shortly af­ter­ward to Emory Univer­sity on a quin­tes­sen­tial Ge­or­gia spring day, painted with blue sky, sun­shine and flow­ers — and choice was easy. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a ma­jor in an­thro­pol­ogy, Bour was ac­cepted at Penn State Col­lege of Medicine and veered to­ward car­dio­tho­racic surgery, then breast surgery, and he ended up spe­cial­iz­ing in bariatric surgery, a field in which he has been pub­lished and has per­formed ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 pro­ce­dures. Along the way, he earned an MBA and be­gan cast­ing his eyes on hospi­tal man­age­ment.

Bour has plenty on his plate, but hopes to soon return to more of the spare­time rou­tine he had in Greenville, which in­volved noth­ing more than ris­ing at 4:10 a.m. in order to be at his gru­el­ing CrossFit class, re­sum­ing his sax­o­phone lessons, and spend­ing time with Katie, his wife who was his op­er­at­ing room as­sis­tant for 20 years. Per­haps the sax lessons are an ef­fort to match tal­ents with Katie, an ac­com­plished vi­o­lin­ist, but their two dogs will have none of it. “The minute I open the sax case, they run,” Bour says.

They have two grown chil­dren—a son who is in com­mer­cial real es­tate in Florida and a daugh­ter study­ing early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion in South Carolina.

The Bours have pur­chased a home in Cov­ing­ton, a show of com­mit­ment. “We need to be in this com­mu­nity,” he says. “We need to eat in this com­mu­nity. It didn’t fell right to me to not live in this com­mu­nity if I’m part of the sys­tem.” And why not live here, he points out. They can si­mul­ta­ne­ously enjoy the square and At­lanta, where they re­cently took in a Garth Brooks concert. “If this was the last place I worked in my ca­reer, I’d be perfectly sat­is­fied. I love this town.”

Time is up, nei­ther a minute early or a minute late, and Bour rises to say good­bye. There are things to do, in­clud­ing a Town Hall meet­ing with employees. Later that af­ter­noon, the hospi­tal’s web­site posts the cur­rent wait time to be seen at its ER room. It’s an ag­o­niz­ing 61 min­utes, the long­est of any of the eight hos­pi­tals in the Pied­mont sys­tem. Yes, it’s noth­ing more than a late-day snapshot in time—it could be less than half that to­mor­row—but for Bour, those con­struc­tion crews work­ing on the ER can’t move fast enough.

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