Becker's 10th Annual Meeting Speaker Series: 3 Questions with Mark Sparta, Executive Vice President of Clinical Operations for Hacksensack Meridian Health

Mark Sparta serves as Executive Vice President of Clinical Operations for Hackensack Meridian Health.

On April 1st, Mark will speak at Becker's Hospital Review 10th Annual Meeting. As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference, which will take place April 1-4, 2019 in Chicago.

To learn more about the conference and Mark's session, click here.

Question: What one strategic initiative will demand the most of your time and energy in 2019?

Mark Sparta: Continuing our focus on improving quality, the patient experience and providing more convenient and cost effective care. In 2016, our entire network had 16 urgent care centers. Last year we grew to 44 because we are committed to providing people with high-quality care options in their communities. This year, we will add 8 more urgent care centers. This is not only enhancing patient satisfaction, it is also reducing overall health care costs because many times injuries or illness do not require the level of care provided in an ER.

We will also open the first behavioral health urgent care center in NJ – if not the nation. This is really important because we have to drastically expand access to care for people diagnosed with mental illness and addiction. Additionally, it allows us to provide more coordinated care because patients will have access to primary care physicians as well as psychiatrists and counselors. These options will help patients receive care faster and will lower costs by reducing unnecessary ER visits.

Q: Healthcare takes a lot of heat for not innovating quickly. What's your take on this?

MS: Compared to other industries, health care can sometimes seem behind on innovation. But I would argue that is changing rapidly and the embrace of new technology really varies network to network. In the past, the center of the health care universe was the hospital. The future of the health care universe is going to be the smartphone.

Here’s a great example: All of us are rapidly expanding the reach of telemedicine to help us provide more convenient and cost-effective care. We are also seeing its use expand to behavioral health care which is really important due to the dearth of experts for adults and children.

Our network, New Jersey’s largest, is ahead of the curve with a $25 million innovation fund and a streamlined process to vet breakthroughs in care delivery. Just two and a half years after launching what we call Bear’s Den, we’ve already funded two exciting innovations.

Additionally, we’re increasingly relying on new technology to enhance the patient experience including a new digital platform known as Wambi that delivers patient feedback in real time as well as staff recognition. We’re expanding through our 17-hospital network.

Q: Can you share some praise with us about people you work with? What does greatness look like to you when it comes to your team?

MS: We all bring different talents to the table but the unifying quality is shared mission. Without that, you will not be successful. Our leadership has a single-minded pursuit – we want to be the most innovative, high quality health provider and we want to deliver cost-effective, patient-centric care. I see greatness frequently in the ranks of our leadership as well as among our 34,000 team members. Obviously, we see greatness in offering cancer patients the biggest breakthrough in 30 years – CAR T-Cell therapy that uses the patient immune system to fight cancer. I see greatness in many other ways: one of our network nurses tended to a sick patient while she was on a flight to Iceland, the start of her vacation. Not only did she sit with the family for the entire 5-hour flight, she gave them her cell phone in case they had another emergency while they were traveling. In another instance a phlebotomist, concerned after a child seemed traumatized during a blood draw, developed a shield to place on the arms of pediatric patients so they could not see the needle. This is what greatness looks like.

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