"The Ronan Report" provides insight about the activities at the Western Maryland Health System in Cumberland, Maryland, and about the changes taking place in healthcare today from a CEO's perspective.

Monday, April 25, 2016

We Are Unique

Last week after the Dr. Perman lecture, I stopped to thank him.  He was engaged in a conversation with Hans Killius, the WMHS Director of Pastoral Care.  Hans had a cell phone and a pager on the table in front of him.  I commented that I didn't realize that we still use pagers at WMHS.  We all laughed.  

The next morning, I received an email from Hans commenting on the preceding evening's event and asked that if I ever wanted to take chaplaincy call that I could and it would be assuredly eyeopening.  I responded that my days of "on call" were over, excluding urgent or emergent situations involving the CEO.  I explained that my start in health care was processing bedpans in Central Sterile Service as an equipment orderly.  I continued that throughout my career from that entry-level health care position to CEO and every position in between (Equipment Technician; Equipment Supervisor; Manager CSS; Assistant Director, Materials Management; Director, Materials Management; Assistant VP; VP; Chief Operating Officer; and CEO), that I had not only spent decades on call but also worked years of weekends and holidays.  During such time, I had to deal with some very interesting and enlightening situations over my 41 years in health care.  I told Hans that I would leave the eyeopeners of today to both him and his associates.  

Hans responded that he was glad that I knew health care from the front lines.  He said that knowing my career path will empower his advocacy of health care leadership and our health system going forward in the presence of occasional negative and ill willed messages.  (Very well stated.)  

Hans' response got me to thinking as to how fortunate and unique we are to have an administrative team that pretty much began their careers in health care at levels well below administration.  Many in health care leadership upon completion of their graduate degrees (MBAs, MHA, MPH, etc.) go directly into administration and never experience the "front lines," using Hans' terminology.  Personally, I have found working at every level of health care has been exceedingly beneficial and rewarding, as have my colleagues at WMHS.  The following is a list of our Senior VPs and VPs at WMHS and where they started in the front lines of health care:

  • Nancy Adams, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nurse Executive - EEG Technician at Sacred Heart
  • Dr. Jerry Goldstein, Chief Medical Officer - Dishwasher at Baltimore County General Hospital
  • Kim Repac - Chief Financial Officer - Staff Accountant at Sacred Heart
  • Bill Byers - Chief Technology Officer - Computer Systems Manager at Memorial
  • Jamie Karstetter, Vice President Patient Care Services - EVS Assistant
  • Michele Martz, Vice President, Clinics and Practices - Staff Accountant at Memorial
  • Kevin Turley, Vice President, Operations - Manager, Sacred Heart Home Medical Equipment
  • Jo Wilson, Vice President, Operations - Radiologic Technologist
Impressive to say the least!



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Team-Based Care

Last evening, I had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Jay Perman, President of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, who spoke at the health system about interprofessionalism, which succinctly put is team-based care.  He talked about how team-based care is optimal  for our patients, its importance in our transition to value-based care delivery, and how it results in better quality and allows us to better address the socioeconomic factors that our patients experience.  
Team-based care involves a care team that may include physicians, nurse practitioners, RNs, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, dietitians,  dentists, attorneys, social workers, care managers, physical and occupational therapists, physician assistants and the list goes on.  In addition to teaching the concept, Dr. Perman uses the team-based approach in his clinic when he sees patients.  After his presentation, I offered an example here at WMHS  that supports his concept of interprofessionalism. 
Our Center for Clinical Resources was built around team-based care delivery.  I explained that when WMHS began our demonstration project on value-based care delivery, we learned that there were 1,972 patients who accounted for $140 million of our cost.  Obviously, these were patients with multiple co-morbidities such as diabetes, congestive heart failure (CHF), COPD and hypertension. To help these patients manage their conditions, we opened a Diabetes Clinic and a CHF Clinic and then added an Anti-Coagulation Clinic.  Unfortunately, all were in separate locations, both on and off campus and it was difficult for patients who had appointments in more than one clinic.  It was then that we decided to combine all of the clinics into one location, the Center for Clinical Resources.  We moved the separate clinics to one office suite in our medical office building and decided not to charge any co-pays or deductibles .  We consolidated the pharmacists in our Anti-Coagulation Clinic, the Diabetes Clinic and its team of a nurse practitioner, a dietician and others, along with the CHF team that was led by a nurse practitioner.  We then added a navigator, respiratory therapists, nurses and other key staff all with access to physicians who specialize in each area.  Through the team approach, we provide a more comprehensive level of care to these patients with multiple illnesses.  They can get their care in one location by a team that is focused on them specifically.  We have reduced admissions, readmissions, ED visits and ancillary utilization for these patients, resulting in a saving of over $8 million in less two years.  Through this approach and a host of other initiatives those 1,972 patients incurring $140 million in cost is now 1300 patients incurring $80 million.

None of our successes in value-based care delivery or the Center for Clinical Resources could have been achieved without using the team-based care approach.  It was also nice to be able to provide Dr. Perman with a real live success story related to his passion for interprofessionalism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Telling Our Story

As you may know, I contribute to a blog called Hospital Impact.  The editor asked if I would comment on an article that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Below is my post from April 14, 2016.  I thought you would find it interesting.

When I was asked if I would blog about pushing the healthcare industry into a new era, I agreed based on my own personal experience. At the time, I wasn’t aware of Don Berwick’s recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the subject. Fortunately, I can certainly relate to his commentary since I have been living his “Era 3” for the last several years.

Berwick states that healthcare needs to be pushed into a new era. He writes about Era 1 when medicine was good and depended on self-regulation. Then Era 2 evolved once the flaws and contradictions of Era 1 became apparent. Era 2 saw the need for accountability and measurement. Era 3, though, will require a combination of Eras 1 and 2, but emphasizing less measurement related to cost and volume and more measurement related to quality and value; moving away from maximizing revenue; focusing on care improvement as a core competency for healthcare leaders; and complete transparency with the communities that we serve.

At Western Maryland Health System, Era 3 has been evolving over the last several years. In 2011, we transitioned to a value-based care delivery model, and care improvement has been at the core of our care delivery model ever since. We have to maintain market share, but otherwise we are expected to bend the cost curve, which we have achieved each year since 2011.

We deliver care in the most appropriate location and partner with many who previously were our competitors. We have reduced use rates, emergency department visits, readmissions, unnecessary admissions and use of observation beds. We have added primary care practices throughout the region, embedded care coordinators in our physician practices and established a pay-for-performance initiative for our physicians to better align incentives. We provide medications for 30 days to any patient upon discharge, follow up immediately with discharged patients and have dramatically expanded our Home Care program. We also work in partnership with our area skilled nursing facilities, and we address chronic conditions such as diabetes, COPD and hypertension at no cost to the patient through our Center for Clinical Resources

Our quality measures focus on a host of hospital-acquired conditions and potentially preventable conditions, but our performance measures such as readmissions, length of stay and mortality rates are equally important.


Over the last six years, we have become a very different organization by moving away from volume and focusing on a value-based care delivery system that embraces the components of the triple aim of health care reform. It wasn’t easy, but we are now very well positioned in an Era 3 healthcare landscape as well as for an ever-challenging healthcare landscape in the future.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What a Great Start to our 20th Anniversary Celebration

In Sunday’s Cumberland Times News, there was a wonderful letter to the editor from Steve Friend, a local attorney.  The letter is attached below.  I have received many complimentary letters regarding the health system, but this has to be up there in the top three.  To have a prominent attorney tout our health system and our staff as excellent, superb, professional, courteous, attentive, pleasant, a culture of kindness and very importantly, great senses of humor, is quite an honor.  All of these attributes are true, but then again I am biased.  But as Steve writes, look at the external objective sources like US News and World Report (hospital rankings), Healthgrades (top 50 heart programs in the US), the Maryland Patient Safety Center (Distinguished Achievements in Patient Safety Innovation),  the American Hospital Association (Living the Vision Award), Premier (Cares Award finalist) and being recognized as one of the nation’s Most Wired Hospitals by AHA.


We have so much to be proud of at WMHS as we celebrate our 20th anniversary.  In addition to our awards and what we do every day in the care of our patients, we successfully consolidated three hospitals in Allegany County, we built a new state of the art medical center and now provide care under a model that focuses on value not volume and is recognized nationally.  Our 20 years as a health system have been remarkably successful and our success is attributable to an amazing team of people doing some amazing things day after day.



Friday, April 1, 2016

Family Feud at WMHS

The other evening to celebrate Doctor’s Day, we entertained the staff and each other with a game of Family Feud.  Our Medical Staff Services team asked 100 nurses at WMHS a series of questions, captured their answers and then used them for a game show match between the Scopes (our Medical Docs) and the Scalpels (our Surgeons).  The winner then got to play the Suits (Executive Staff).

What a great evening!  The Scalpels beat the Scopes and then Doctors Allaway and Hasslinger did the bonus round with Dr. Allaway getting 198 of the needed 200 points.  The Scalpels then went up against the Suits.  My wife said that the Suits had an advantage by having two women on the team, one of which is a nurse.  Both Nancy Adams and Michele Martz answered the questions as nurses (the great majority of those surveyed being women) would. Thinking back on the questions, she was right.  For the most part, the men who participated answered as men would answer.  The advantage of having two women on team Suits paid off since we beat the Scalpels handedly.  Although after the game was over Dr. Allaway, the Scalpels team captain, asked if it was that obvious that they let us win.

It was a lot of fun and it was obvious that a lot of work went into the event.  My thanks to the doctors who participated, our Food Service staff, EVS staff, Cindy Bridges, our MC for the evening and the master planner of the event, her staff, Tim Abrell, Pam Kline, Karen Ashby and of course, our 100 nurses.

Some photos of the night have been included.









Friday, March 18, 2016

We Are Getting Healthier and We Have the Numbers to Prove It

The health rankings and statistics for Allegany County have been released by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a national organization tracking such rankings for counties throughout the country.  Our rank for overall health outcomes improved by three positions from 22 in 2014 to 19 in 2016.  Contributing to that upward movement were a lesser percentage of the population in poor health, fewer poor physical health days and a very slight improvement in low birth weight.  In addition, the percentage of adults smoking has decreased and physical inactivity has improved. 
Our clinical rankings saw the most significant improvement with our rank moving from 17th to 13th as a result of less uninsured persons, more primary care physicians, and improvement in preventable hospital stays and diabetic screenings.  There was also a reduction in children living in poverty. 
Those areas where improvement is still needed include: alcohol-impaired driving deaths, which are up over last year and sexually transmitted infections, which are up over last year but well below the state’s results.  Our ranking for physical environment factors, i.e. housing, long commutes, drinking water and air pollution, is unfortunately 24 out of 24.

It is not easy to get significant movement between years, but since we started tracking such information we have seen continued improvement in a number of areas, especially those related to health status.  Such improvement is a direct result of the efforts put forth by WMHS in both our approach to value-based care delivery and our increasing role as the safety net for those in need throughout the region.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Situational Awareness of Security Risks Facing WMHS

WMHS has engaged the services of Caroline Ramsey Hamilton of Risk and Security Risk Consulting to advise us on institutional security and the safety of our employees primarily related to an active shooter incident. It is our intention to improve the protection of our patients, staff and visitors against active shooters and overall workplace violence.  
Caroline will be on campus in a week or so to perform an assessment of our organization and conduct onsite interviews of staff. She will work with us to do active shooter / workforce violence training for all staff and to implement a situational awareness program for the organization. Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the engagement, especially through her past work with health systems. 
WMHS is also working with area law enforcement on an active shooter drill to occur this spring. We will then be performing drills on an ongoing basis after this initial spring drill.  We want to make sure that our staff is fully aware of what to do during an active shooter incident and how to best safeguard our patients and their families as well as each other.  
We have done previous safety assessments but never to this extent. Two years ago, we had a safety and security assessment performed of our campus and a number of changes were made. We added additional cameras, upgraded existing cameras with pan tilt and zoom capabilities, upgraded lighting campus wide, added a security escort program, strengthened our visitor management program after hours, added an incident notification system, placed barrier controls outside of the ED and also increased our police presence within the ED to every day.  

The executive team takes the safety and security of our campus very seriously and wants to ensure that every step is taken to best protect our patients and staff.