5 questions with Memorial Healthcare System CEO Aurelio M. Fernandez III

Aurelio M. Fernandez III was named president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Fla., earlier this year. 

Mr. Fernandez, who succeeded Frank V. Sacco, was selected after an extensive search that included both internal and external candidates. He has more than four decades of healthcare experience and brings knowledge in the acute care setting and hospital operations in both private and public management. 

He has been with Memorial Healthcare System for the past nine years, serving first as CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar (Fla.) before being promoted to executive vice president and COO of Memorial Healthcare System in 2012. He was named interim president and CEO March 1, and the hospital district's board of commissioners made the position permanent shortly thereafter.

Mr. Fernandez recently spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the system's graduate medical education accreditation, his leadership style and what's next for the organization.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: Memorial Healthcare System is currently accredited in two programs —physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatrics — and is now enrolling students for 2017. What does this accreditation mean for the organization?

Aurelio Fernandez: Embarking on a graduate medical education program is very important to us. We feel the South Florida market is underserved and does not have the adequate programs to maintain the needs of the medical community. So we embarked upon the graduate medical education program about two years ago. The South Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners approved the program and we identified three disciplines — pediatrics, internal medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. We've already gotten the approval for physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatrics and we're pending the approval or accreditation in August or September for internal medicine. We've also already approved about $10 million in construction related to our graduate medical education program at our Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines, Fla. They had the real estate and we thought that would be the most appropriate place to house the program. So overall I believe the graduate medical education program taps into futuristic ways to practice medicine which includes technology, the medical home, population health — things that in a traditional model were never considered — and having graduates go through a process that provides them exposure to how medicine is going to be delivered in the future is very important.

Q: Memorial Healthcare System has taken on an extensive online transparency initiative to provide consumers quality, safety and pricing information. What is the initiative and how does it work?

AF: We embarked on that journey about a year and a half ago and we feel that we have one of the most progressive transparency websites in the market. We decided to propose it in two perspectives, one being quality and outcomes and the other one being financial. On the quality side, you go to our website and you're able to look at a variety of outcomes and compare those outcomes to national standards or state standards that are comparable. And it's good or bad. We're not being selective. It provides the consumer a definition of what we're measuring and why we're measuring it. On the financial side, we have identified services we feel the consumer would want to shop for. We have made a concerted effort to price it at a rate that we feel is appropriate to be competitive in the market but at the same time recognize there is a significant cost associated with the oversight of that quality.

Q: What are the biggest health issues and concerns in your market?

AF: This is the last year we'll be getting monies from Florida's Low Income Pool program to aid the state's safety-net hospitals. Hospitals dependent on those funds will be impacted. Like always, you're going to find that reimbursement is a concern and how do you provide the level of care you want to provide within the dollars available. Concerning the way that the industry is moving forward, we do not have Medicaid expansion in Florida. We are dependent on a larger portion of the population participating in the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The Medicaid program is on a managed care delivery system throughout the state and a lot of the third-party payers lost money last year, so they are evaluating whether they are going to stay in the program. So there's a lot of uncertainly in the air. The financial aspect of our industry continues to be a concern.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style, and what are the characteristics of your ideal senior leadership team?

AF: I'm collaborative in my approach. I seek input. I recognize that I do not know everything in the industry, but we have been very fortunate to recruit and retain some very talented senior executives, and we have a very talented workforce. Leaders at the system meet every three or four months in our leadership development institute. We share all the information on quality, safety, finance and growth. We do the good and the bad and it gives us a platform to address issues of concern as well as issues of pride. So creating that level of pride. I see folks energized and you have to have a team that's energized, motivated to embark on these journeys or enhance the platforms you've had in place previously. I feel very good about the team we've assembled here.

Q: What is your vision for MSH's future?

AF: We want to expand our presence of pediatric care into other markets. We feel that our pediatric hospital and the physicians we have employed are tops in their field, and we have services that are necessary or missing in certain markets, so we are going to expand our pediatric footprint. We feel like to expand that clinically integrated model, we need to align our incentives with other hospitals in South Florida. We also want to become the safest hospital in the nation. We're going to use Leapfrog to measure our outcomes. We are also going to enhance our culture by introducing something called the language of caring, which is how do we create an environment where we interact with our colleagues, with our physicians, with our patients in a way that is a much more caring and compassionate manner. You have to constantly be on top of the programs you have in place. And lastly is how do we improve our technology presence and be much more dependent on smart devices to expand our service base.


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