WESTERLY — Patrick Green, president and chief executive officer of Westerly Hospital since June, is working to change the narrative from the old story, which focused on the facility’s financial problems and instability, to a new chapter emphasizing a range of acute care, in- and out-patient services, and a growing number of medical specialists available locally.
“We believe the patients and referring physicians are going to realize Westerly is very strong. It’s not about what we don’t have anymore. We need to start talking about what we do have… quite frankly we think it rivals any of our competition,” Green said in a recent interview.
Green was named president and chief executive officer of L+M Healthcare, which includes Westerly Hospital, in April and started his new job in June. Facing insolvency, Westerly Hospital was placed into receivership in late 2011, sold to L+M Healthcare in 2013 and became affiliated as part of the New London-based network with the Yale New Haven Health System in September 2016.
The financial problems and fast-paced changes including new leaders, layoffs, and a reduction in services, had an effect on employees and patients, Green said. With that in mind, he dedicated much of his first six months on the job to meeting with doctors and other hospital staff with the hope of instilling a sense of stabilization. Between Westerly Hospital and L+M in New London, he’s conducted more than 70 sessions with various departments “asking what can we do to improve your work environment and having a really disciplined approach to following up on the feedback we receive,” Green said.
Some of the meetings have been held at the hospitals but many have been one on one sessions conducted over a cup of coffee or a meal. A particular emphasis has been placed on talking with physicians after survey responses showed a need for management to reengage with them. During those meetings Green asks the doctors, “what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses and opportunities, what are your concerns?”
Many employees expressed concerns about the hospital’s future as well as a desire to join in telling the new story.
“They want the community to know that we’re still here and that we still offer very important emergency services,” Green said.
To that end, staff volunteered to help out during the Holiday Stroll in downtown Westerly. Participation by a variety of staff members, not simply marketing personnel, at similar events is planned for the future, said Michael O’Farrell, a hospital spokesman.
Along with conveying “a sense of stabilization” to employees, Green said his first six months has involved a clear focus on patients.
“Making sure we are supporting our clinical programs that provide great access and extraordinary patient experience,” Green said. The two concepts — engaged employees and satisfied patients — go hand in hand in. To improve patient experience hospitals must establish “trust and stronger relationships with our physicians and associates to build a continuum of care that really improves patient health and gives them confidence in our organization,” he said.
“A lot of times when we talk about health care we talk about buildings and money but what our associates want to talk about is what can we do to improve our patients’ experience.”
L+M Healthcare has hired more than 20 new doctors within the past year, some work in New London and some in the Westerly service area. Recruitment for a new general surgeon and a new gastrointestinal physician, both for Westerly, is ongoing. A neurologist who previously worked only in New London will soon establish regular hours at Westerly. Additional emergency medicine doctors are also being sought for Westerly.
Patient volumes are improving and the affiliation with Yale gives Westerly an enhanced ability to focus on overall health.
“The focus on wellness and keeping people healthy, that’s a benefit of belonging to a system. We have emergency medical care, we have outpatient services and we have specialty care and hospital medicine. That provides whole person care not just in-patient care,” Green said.
Access to Yale’s renowned specialists will bolster the efforts of long-term Westerly doctors, some of whom Green said are among the best in their field. As examples he pointed to Dr. Pamela Connors, a gastroenterologist, Dr. Jeff Christian, a general surgeon, and Dr. Adrian Hamburger, who specializes in pain management.
The 44-year-old Green, who previously served as the senior executive vice president and chief administrative officer of St. Anthony Hospital in Colorado, comes to Westerly at a time of intense competition. He said the South County Hospital medical office building near Dunn’s Corners, which opened in May 2016, caused some patients to migrate away from Westerly Hospital. More recently plans for a medical office building on Wells Street have emerged. Green said he plans to meet with the backers of the Wells Street building to pursue possible collaboration.
“We have to make up some ground because of the challenges we’ve had financially, but luckily because of our affiliation and the commitments that we are actively looking at launching, we’re going to make up some ground pretty quickly,” Green said. “Westerly is going to be a formidable opponent in this market… not just for competition’s sake but we believe our value to the community is very, very real.”
On another front, Yale and South County Hospital are engaged in talks geared at “providing excellent health care for greater Washington County,” Green said. The talks were first announced in April. He declined to go into additional detail.
In July, Yale New Haven administrators, including Green, appeared before the Town Council to talk about Westerly Hospital and its future. Green’s colleagues discussed potential new services geared toward addiction, opioid abuse, and mental health problems. The Rhode Island Department of Health specified expansion of those types of services as a condition for approving the hospital’s affiliation with Yale.
During the interview, Green acknowledged the comments made to the council as well as the state’s expectations, but said most decisions on new services will not be made until a strategic plan process, which is about to begin, is completed. The plan, which Green said will take three to six months to develop, will be announced publicly.
“Our commitment is not wavering at all on what we said we are going to do, we just want to be sure we are being strategic and that it’s going to sustain,” Green said.
As a prelude to the planning process, Green said hospital administrators are talking with behavioral health providers in the area. “I don’t want to assume we know what is best for the community… we have to do things in partnership,” he said.