Viewpoint: President of hospital where nurse called 911 is changing his tone

Chad Melton, the president of Silverdale, Wash.-based St. Michael Medical Center, was fairly quiet when the hospital began showing signs of crisis this fall — a nurse calling 911, a preliminary denial of accreditation — but now, "he seems to be hitting his stride," according to Kitsap Sun columnist Niran Al-Agba, MD. 

Dr. Al-Agba has covered St. Michael Medical center and has been present at local meetings discussing the hospital's status. In a Dec. 18 column, she writes that at a town hall meeting in November, Jim Terwilliger — chief operating officer of the hospital's parent company, Seattle-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health —  "talked over Melton at every turn, making excuses for the problems of wait times and staffing and offering very little in the way of solutions to a full crowd of concerned residents." 

But Mr. Melton's recent actions have shown signs of strong leadership and given Dr. Al-Agba hope, she writes. He spent an 80-hour work week listening to staff across multiple departments about how to improve their workplace. 

"I may be the president, I don't know everything," Mr. Melton said at a Dec. 6 board meeting for Kitsap County Public Health. "I don’t. But the people on the front line do."

Listening to employees has helped the hospital come up with a three-legged game plan, reports Dr. Al-Agba, who is also a Silverdale pediatrician. A 15-nurse "float pool" has been added to help cover short-staffed units. Mr. Melton frequently calls the local fire chief ahead of expected high emergency department utilization to troubleshoot before issues start. And three additional primary care providers will be added to St. Michael's outpatient clinics, helping to address shortages in mental health, primary and women's care. 

"I understand I am responsible for this organization. I will own those aspects," Mr. Melton said to close the November town hall. 

"So while I have written critically about some decisions or actions at SMMC in recent months, I want to give Chad Melton credit where credit is due," Dr. Al-Agba wrote. "Our community needs St. Michael Medical Center to be functional in order to save lives, and we will continue to expect accountability from the people who hold that trust."

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