Colleen Mitchell set to retire after nearly two decades at the helm of HealthStar Physicians
HealthStar Physicians of Hot Springs is an independent healthcare practice management company serving the Hot Springs, Fountain Lake, Glenwood and Mena areas in Arkansas. Colleen Mitchell has been the CEO of HealthStar for almost 17 years and said the company has made “huge strides” since its inception in 2000. Mitchell is set to retire in December after nearly 40 years in the healthcare industry.
What exactly does HealthStar Physicians of Hot Springs do?
Colleen Mitchell: HealthStar Physicians of Hot Springs is a physician group. They’re totally independent, not owned by a hospital or insurance company or anything. We’re one of the largest independent groups in this area. Currently, we have 14 doctors and 23 APNs (advanced practice nurses). We have six family practice clinics, a wellness clinic, two pediatric, two walk-in clinics that offer extended hours, a med spa, and, in November, we’ll have our imaging center open for our patients, which will include MRI, CT and ultrasound.
We also have a house call clinic, which is an APN and an LPN (licensed practical nurse) who actually go out to the customer’s home and perform a provider visit. We try to get out to see every patient who’s been discharged to make sure that they understood their discharge instructions, and they picked up their meds and are not having any kind of problems after they were discharged. It’s just so they don’t get readmitted. This has made a significant difference in our readmits to the hospital; it’s reduced it by about 70 percent.
Then we have over 200 who are homebound patients, who, for whatever reason, they’re too frail. Some of them have dementia.Some of them don’t have transportation, and they have several chronic problems, and we go out to see them. We can give them flu shots, pneumonia shots, do a biopsy, order mobile X-ray, draw labs—we can literally do anything in a house that you can do in a clinic.
We’ve really grown tremendously in the last few years. We’re opening a physical therapy clinic Oct. 1. We offer speech therapy. We have a licensed therapist on staff who does medication management for our patients. We have women’s services. We do self-management classes.
Going back 16, almost 17 years ago, how did you get into this position?
CM: I worked for a local dermatologist/plastic surgeon in town, and I had worked for him for 19 years. We opened a research department while I worked for him. I guess it was then that I realized my passion for medicine, because I was able to be directly involved with patients and see the change that new medications coming down the pipeline made, whether they were going to work or not be effective, and the difference it made in people’s lives. I loved my job there; he opened a lot of doors for me and gave me opportunities that I would not have had elsewhere. But, after 19 years, you kind of want a change, another adventure before you hang it up, so to speak. I was approached by the medical
director of HealthStar Physicians. I had met him years prior when he was actually in his residency with the physician that I was working for. He approached me and asked me if I would come out and meet his group. They had a job offer for me, and he just wanted me to consider it. So I did, and I thought, ‘Well, the time is probably right for me to make a change.’
I love it. I loved what I did there. They were wonderful to me, and this group has been as well. It’s amazing to be able to work alongside these physicians and grow with them.
What keeps you getting up and going to work each day?
CM: I love the staff. All of the clinics, we have over 200 employees, but we’re all like family. I want everyone to be very approachable; my door is always open. If you’re having a problem in a clinic or you don’t know where to turn and you just feel like you’re at a dead end, come in and we’ll sit down and chat about it. I’m a huge, huge patient advocate. I want more than anything to take care of those patients. I strive to make everyone in all of our clinics to put the patients first. All of our clinics, we’re making them patient-centered medical homes. That’s exactly what that model is designed for, putting the patient first and making them a part of their healthcare, letting them have decision-making and getting them engaged in whatever you’re doing with them. You give them options, you discuss it and you let them make the choice. We hold them accountable for that, too, because the way medicine has moved out now, it’s changed so much in the past 12 years. Doctors are graded on quality, not quantity, and not the services they deliver. They’re graded on the outcome of what they’re delivering. So it’s important that your patient does understand that and will follow through with what you’ve discussed and what they’ve committed to, because it’s a reflection on their physician and on their health, and they’re held accountable for it and paid accordingly.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
CM: Growing pains. Just growing so quickly— we have to practice totally different from what we did 10 years ago. Used to be, you had to see a certain number of patients to pay the bills, and it’s not that way now; it’s all about the quality and the outcome of the health that you’re delivering, and so getting that into everyone’s mind, making them understand.
We have care coordinators in all of our clinics now, so if you’re a patient, there are three key people that you know. That’s your physician, your nurse and your care coordinator. So, if you call, instead of being shifted around everywhere and wondering if anyone’s going to get back to you, you’re given to your care coordinator first, and she’s going to make sure that your nurse or doctor or nurse practitioner is going to get the message, and someone’s going to get back to you.
What do you plan to do after you retire?
CM: We have a research department here that I helped open. I’m going to keep a small presence in the research just because you don’t want to just quit everything, but it won’t be full-time by any means. I have a lot of things on my bucket list that I want to do. I want to do a lot of traveling; there are seven states that I haven’t been to. I want to do a lot of volunteer work, whether it’s at the school or a soup kitchen. I want to give back to the community because I feel like they’ve given so much to me.