Surgically Remodeling a Hospital: Q&A With Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, CEO of Vanguard's Weiss Memorial Hospital

This past September, Weiss Memorial Hospital brought in the East Coast-based Jeffrey Steinberg, MD, to lead the Chicago-based facility. Dr. Steinberg, a urological surgeon, came to Weiss Memorial — which is part of Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard Health Systems — from Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., where he was the senior vice president for health policy and disparity and chairman and director of surgery. Prior to that, he was the chief of surgery at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., which is the flagship hospital of Vanguard's New England market.

During his tenure with those two hospitals, Dr. Steinberg boosted their surgical profiles. At Saint Francis, he recruited 14 employed surgeons that generated $20 million in net patient revenue, and upon leaving, the surgery department had more than 220 active surgeons. While at Saint Vincent Hospital, he helped establish the first da Vinci Surgical System program in Central Massachusetts.

Surgery — and the management of it — is Dr. Steinberg's forte, and he says there are many ways hospitals can help this department improve. Here, he talks about how he plans to lead Weiss Memorial, how hospitals can improve their surgical volume and how a strong primary care base and surgical specialists are irrevocably linked to success.

Question: What are your visions for the new-look Weiss Memorial Hospital?

Dr. Steinberg: Weiss has a rich tradition of serving the Uptown community in Chicago. It's really been serving the diverse community for the past 60 years, and it's a wonderful, caring community hospital with an academic affiliation with the University of Chicago Medical Center.

As for initiatives, I was the first physician who has been actively recruited within Vanguard Health Systems, and they recruited me because Weiss is a surgical hospital and a physician-friendly hospital. We want to grow the primary care base as well as the medical and surgical specialists, and we want to create additional centers of excellence in all of the clinical areas. Having practiced and benefited from major academic centers in Boston and Worcester, Mass., I'm trying to build on my experience in creating centers of excellence at Weiss for physician alignment, physician recruitment and collaborative building programs. We are one of four Vanguard hospitals in the Chicago market, so this is a market-wide strategy. We have to compete in this very competitive Chicago healthcare market.

Q: You are a urological surgeon leading a hospital with a lot of prior executive experience. How will your previous experience help you and help to improve the hospital both financially and clinically?

Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, CEO of Weiss Memorial HospitalJS: I'm a product of the Harvard medical program in general surgery and urology. I practiced at the Cambridge Health Alliance to be chief of surgery. I went to St. Vincent's in Worcester to be chief of surgery, as well as at St. Francis in Hartford. Along the way, my major initiatives were recruiting additional physicians and building centers of excellence. I had many experiences in partnering with physicians and also in retaining practices of physicians who were already on the medical staff. To bring them into active management of these entities through co-management agreements — creating models that add value to the hospital — improves outcomes and encourages physician loyalty while further developing programmatic excellence.

As I was building these programs, I was practicing alongside with these physicians. I was right next door to these surgeons. It's very important for hospital leaders to have credibility and to see at a granular level what barriers and opportunities there are for physicians to succeed and grow into something larger than themselves.

Q: How do you plan to work with CFO Jeff Wright and the entire financial team?

JS: Jeff is a wonderful colleague. He was the acting CEO here at Weiss, and he has a wealth of experience as well. We've worked with some of the same folks. He worked at Geisinger Health System — Geisinger is a very progressive system in Pennsylvania, and it rolled out new models of care that President Barack Obama noted in a previous State of the Union Address. [Jeff] has been a fabulous partner to help me grow at Weiss, and I've recruited additional executives to help Weiss grow and develop programs of excellence. Our new executive team is positioned for growth.

Q: What are some of the short- and long-term financial and clinical objectives?

JS: Clinical: recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. We're looking at additional primary care physicians both in internal medicine and family practice, and we're recruiting additional surgical specialties, particularly in otolaryngology, urology, general surgery and gynecology. For medical specialties, we want to recruit additional cardiologists and gastroenterologists.

It's not just recruiting, but also creating programs of excellence in each of those areas. It's not just plopping down those physicians in those areas. It's all part of a coordinated growth initiative by the Vanguard Chicago market. That's my number one imperative. We're there already in orthopedics, and we're going to expand that to sister hospitals, too.

Financially, we want to be healthier, and we are. Our volume is growing. We want to reinvest in facilities so we can continue to provide top-notch care. Our medical office buildings are underutilized, so we have plans to provide new ambulatory services there and bring on additional physicians who would like to have ambulatory practices there. Our new facilities master plan will position us for growth to make the hospital comfortable, confidential and technologically advanced for all patients — inpatient or ambulatory. Ambulatory is really important because that's where healthcare reform is headed.

Q: What are the most effective ways for hospitals to increase their surgical volume?

JS: You need to have a strong primary care physician base to feed to your specialists is number one. You need to take care of the primary care physicians and provide a full range and spectrum of things they need for their patients.

Number two: How do you increase and make your processes more efficient and easier for patients to navigate? You want to make sure every patient has exceptional service because they are your best ambassadors. Word of mouth still plays a very important role in attracting new patients, and my goal is to delight patients so they tell their neighbors, friends and others. It's making sure existing patients are delighted because they are your best salespeople.

We also want to make it easy for patients to physically navigate the hospital. They should know where services are, where they go to get prepared for surgery, where to follow up after surgery, nurses calling and giving postoperative directions, primary care physicians knowing what the ongoing care needs are. It's not just episodic care but also aggregating into the complete continuum of care.

Other ways are having the latest equipment, OR availability and having excellent staff who are actively engaged in their service. Co-management agreements — where the orthopedic surgeons are running the program and have skin in the game to make sure there are good outcomes — are also a very effective mechanism for engaging physicians in hospital operations because they are the content experts of providing the best care. That's one of our ways we align interests of physicians with the hospital and ultimately gives the patients the best care.

Related Articles on Hospital Leadership:

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Leveraging Multidisciplinary Teams to Improve Quality: Q&A With Christiana Care CMO Dr. Janice Nevin

Chuck Lauer: This is the Worst Time for Healthcare CEO Paralysis

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