The new hospital on the block: The challenges and triumphs of leading a hospital in its infancy

Leading a new hospital comes with its own set of tensions, challenges and advantages.

Chiefs of a new hospital must ensure employees can effectively navigate the facility's new features and systems, all while strategically planning to compete with older hospitals that are household names in the community.

On the bright side, they are leading a modern hospital with brand-new features and a fresh culture that isn't stuck in "the way we've always done it."      

Tom Hanenburg, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente's San Leandro (Calif.) Medical Center, and Kent Loosle, CEO of Mountain Point Medical Center in Lehi, Utah, know these things. They both lead organizations that were recently established.

San Leandro Medical Center opened in mid-2014. Located a few miles south of Oakland, the six-story, 437,000-square-foot hospital includes 216 licensed beds, a 24-hour emergency department with 40 treatment bays, 10 operating rooms, a labor and delivery department equipped for high-risk deliveries and a neonatal intensive care unit. All rooms are private, come with room service, free Wi-Fi and pull-out guest beds, so family members have the option of staying overnight.

In May 2015, Franklin, Tenn.-based IASIS Healthcare announced the opening of 40-bed Mountain Point Medical Center. The 124,000-square-foot hospital offers a 24-hour, full-service emergency department, intensive care unit, full-service laboratory, labor and delivery suites, Level II nursery, diagnostic imaging services, cardiac catheterization laboratory, general medical and surgical inpatient services and an array of medical specialties. The hospital opened with nearly 250 employees. More than 220 physicians and other medical providers, representing a range of medical specialties, serve on the hospital's medical staff.

Here, Mr. Hanenburg and Mr. Loosle talked to Becker's Hospital Review's about the challenges and excitement of leading a new hospital.  

Note: Responses were lightly edited for length, style and clarity.

Question: What is the greatest challenge you face as the leader of a new hospital today? San Leandro Medical Center

Tom Hanenburg: The biggest challenge is to ensure everyone is oriented to the new environment and can quickly, safely and effectively navigate all of the new systems and features that come with a new hospital. The staff is going from a 50-year old facility, with the design features from that era, to a state-of-the-art hospital with incredible technology, advanced systems and equipment. So you need to provide a lot of staff training and education before you make the move so everyone operates in the new environment safely and effectively.

It's obvious healthcare is moving more to outpatient services and having less care provided in an inpatient setting. Some hospitals probably see that as a challenge, but we see it as an opportunity. We were able to design a building that fit the new model of healthcare. We carefully designed the hospital with 40 beds and a more significant outpatient service area. We have the ability to quickly expand those inpatient beds to match the needs of our community, but until then, we focus on the services needed today. I think it's easier to serve the community by having this new facility that fits the longer-term trends in healthcare.

Kent Loosle: Running a hospital, just like any business, is challenging. We have a great medical staff and caregivers, which benefits our patients. These caregivers help ease the challenges that come with operating a new facility. It is better access, quicker turnaround times (where patients are seen and taken care in a quicker way) and new technology. These are things we can do much better in this new facility and help us in the challenges that any new facility faces.

Q: How do you compete with hospitals that have been around a lot longer?

TH: This is not really an issue for us, since Kaiser Permanente has been in service to the community for 70 years and we are actually celebrating our 70th anniversary this year. We are an international model for integrated healthcare and in that way, we differentiate ourselves from others. Our brand goes beyond just how new our hospitals are — the public and our members expect Kaiser Permanente to invest in the best equipment, facilities and services so we can provide high quality, affordable healthcare.

KL: We focus on quality and service, that's the key. We've always distinguished ourselves from our competition by maintaining that high quality of service that we offer our patients. In addition to focusing on quality, we strive continually to exceed the patient's expectations by providing them with excellent service.

Q: Do you see the hospital's newness as a strategic advantage in any way? Is it ever a disadvantage?

TH: You need to be careful to not view healthcare through an outdated lens. Hospitals — and how new or old they are — are not what attracts patients or consumers to a health system. Consumers are looking for a care experience that is high quality, high touch.

Again, Kaiser Permanente's integrated healthcare model, and our approach to preventive care and delivering healthcare when and where our members need it best, is how we stand out. To the extent the physical features of the medical and ambulatory centers support that concept — and help us deliver the message that "we care for you" — then a new facility certainly helps. But consumers really want to know that the healthcare system and the people who work there are dedicated to providing the very best care, and a new hospital can't make up for a deficit in one's devotion to providing great care.

KL: I see it as a significant advantage. We designed the facility in a way that best meets the needs of the patient, the physicians and the caregivers…We worked with our architectural firm in a very deliberate and intentional design of the facility. Historically, hospitals tended to be sterile in appearance, but if you had a chance to come to Mountain Point, it's a beautiful facility. You can tell it's new and modern. There's a soothing, comforting kind of healing environment that you have here with a brand new building. I think those elements are an advantage.

Also, the location of our hospital offers a strategic advantage for the EMS community. We were able to build the new hospital in the fastest growing area of the state, which is also an advantage. It is difficult to think of a real disadvantage. We have good location, a new facility, and the support of the community and physicians.

Q: What is the biggest advantage to leading a new hospital? Mountain Point

TH: The biggest advantage is that all of the systems are designed to work together in a seamless, integrated manner. In an older hospital you tend to bolt together disparate systems over time as you introduce new equipment or upgrade systems, like the nurse call system or radiology equipment. The result is a care delivery environment that is not as seamless as one would like. With a new hospital, we designed everything to work together as a completely integrated system from day one. So there are no gaps in the structures that support clinical care and no friction points between the various systems.

KL: One advantage is our convenient location. We selected a location convenient for patients, physicians and the caregivers in the community. The facility design and construction involved local physicians, and reflects what they believe are the most efficient and effective ways to help deliver high quality care. Also, our equipment and facilities are obviously new, all of which create a buzz and excitement.  

Q: How does the hospital's newness affect its culture?

TH: It certainly raises the level of pride the staff have in the care they provide. Our staff has always been proud of the care they provided before we moved to new facility, but now you have a new hospital to point to that really stands out. It’s a physical manifestation of the world-class care that the team has always delivered, but now it is more visible to the community. It also is a tangible statement to the community that Kaiser Permanente invests in the care we provide to our community. We invested $800 million in building this state-of-the-art hospital.

KL: We were fortunate in our ability to be selective in the hiring of our staff. We had 4,000 applications for 250 positions. This gave us the opportunity to hire really great talent. We were able to begin the positive culture from the beginning. We have engaged staff, engaged physicians and in an engaged community. Those three elements bring a new culture that will bring long term success to the facility.


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