Nuclei of Local Healthcare: 5 Steps for Community Hospitals to Become Great

When it comes to the hospital sector, large tertiary facilities and academic medical centers like Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago garner a lot of the attention. In some regards, it makes sense. These institutions treat some of the sickest patients in the country, are hubs for groundbreaking research and have resources that few other healthcare organizations can match.

However, for most Americans, the community hospital is the prototypical image of a hospital. Babies being born, broken arms being mended, illnesses being treated — all of this occurs within a building that in many ways is the nucleus of each particular community.

Community hospitals may not be destination medical centers to treat the global masses, but they can still be "great" facilities. Here, three community hospital CEOs explain what these types of organizations must do to take the extra step from merely "average" or "good" to become "great."

1. Create a sense of trust and stability. When Tim Browne was appointed CEO of Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center, a 116-bed hospital in Hartsville, S.C., in 2011, he became the hospital's seventh CEO in a matter of less than a decade. Hospital employees, physicians and the general public were desperate for consistency within the hospital's leadership, and Mr. Browne — who actually was born and raised in Hartsville — said he made it his top goal to make the hospital a bastion of stability for his community and gain trust back.

Tim Browne is CEO of Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center."I spent a lot of time outside the walls of the hospital, in addition to inside, just listening and being involved in local events and basically reconnecting with local business and industry," Mr. Browne says. "I had been told the hospital had been absent [within the community], and we made a true grassroots effort to get back and reconnected."

2. Become an active participant within community affairs. Creating a sense of trust and stability cannot really be done without being fully engaged with the community, as Mr. Browne said. Ken Hutchenrider Jr., president of 209-bed Methodist Richardson (Texas) Medical Center, couldn't agree more.

Mr. Hutchenrider says community hospitals are vital to their local economies and infrastructure, meaning hospital leaders have to be proactive and establish good working relationships with city and town leaders — including mayors, city councils, civic groups, schools, and TV and radio stations. For example, in an effort to lower Methodist Richardson's STEMI times, Mr. Hutchenrider says the hospital worked with the city of Richardson's mayor, fire department, emergency medical services and other stakeholders to create collaborative protocols and streamline the process for treating heart attack patients. Since Methodist Richardson first engaged the community in its process, it set a record for door-to-balloon time of 14 minutes.

Staying active in community affairs is also necessary for community hospitals as they dip their toes more into population health management. Phyllis Peoples, president and CEO of Terrebonne General Medical Center, a 321-bed hospital in Houma, La., says her hospital serves a tight-knit parish community in Louisiana's bayou, and their community outreach is "key in our efforts to provide exception health outcomes."

"[We] prioritize awareness and prevention of the health conditions identified as most affecting our community — stroke, diabetes, heart disease and cancer — and provide educational programs and health screenings for these conditions to residents at little or no cost," Ms. Peoples says.

Ken Hutchenrider Jr. is president of Methodist Richardson Medical Center.3. Prioritize quality outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Quality outcomes and patient satisfaction scores have always been a top concern for community hospitals, but now they will matter even more under CMS' value-based purchasing and readmissions programs, which tie Medicare reimbursements to results. Patient satisfaction is an area that community hospitals can especially influence because, as each CEO put it, it's simply a matter of making the right effort.

"Patient satisfaction is job one," Mr. Hutchenrider says. "We want every one of our patients to be satisfied as they are leaving our building. For example, we have a special subset of volunteers to serve elderly patients. Often times, those elderly patients just want someone to come up and talk to them — ranging from the good old days, music in the 1950s, do a Sudoku or crossword puzzle — and we have this group now that's willing to do that."

4. Highlight the hospital's key specialties. Community hospitals are not tertiary hospitals for a reason — they cannot provide every service within every subspecialty. Mr. Browne of Carolina Pines says community hospitals must focus on clinical excellence for the service lines they do provide and create relationships with bigger hospitals for those they don't. "The continuum of care process creates a smooth transition for patients, so for [issues] we can't treat here, we're ensuring we have a relationship at a larger tertiary facility," he says.

Phyllis Peoples is president and CEO of Terrebonne General Medical Center.Ms. Peoples agrees, saying Terrebonne General has focused on cancer and orthopedic centers of excellence to bring a scaled version of "world-class" care to its community.

5. Show physicians, nurses and other staff just how valuable they are. An axiom across all sectors: An organization is nothing without its employees. This is especially true in healthcare, in which many have said there are looming shortages of physicians, nurses and coders. If community hospitals want to recruit and attract new healthcare professionals to their organizations, it's a prerequisite to have positive workforce programs and benefits.

"[Our] staff treats all patients with compassion and respect, and we cannot thank them enough for being ambassadors of the hospital and our mission," Ms. Peoples says. "Through appreciation luncheons, naming an Employee of the Month and bestowing awards for extraordinary nurses, we regularly show our gratitude for our compassionate employees and the exceptional work they do in our hospital each day."

More Articles on Community Hospitals:

6 Healthcare Leadership Tactics to Spread Change Organization-Wide
Bridging the Quality & Finance Silos: 6 Domains for Improving Quality From Cottage Hospital CEO Maria Ryan
How Did Hospitals Post Positive Fiscal Years in 2012? 5 Hospital CFOs Respond

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