Hospital plans for ‘year of action’

Last year was the hospital’s “year of listening,” according to CEO Ron Telles, and 2020 will be “the year of action.”

During Wednesday morning’s monthly meeting of government leaders in the county, the WhidbeyHealth executive explained the public hospital district’s main goals in its new strategic plan, which includes improving its reputation, patient satisfaction, recruitment and retention, and financial situation.

The district has been losing money the last couple of years, but its 2020 budget predicts a 2.9 percent profit by the end of the year, Telles said at the meeting. The organization has about 25 days of cash on hand to sustain operating expenses.

“Most hospitals our size have 120 days cash on hand,” Telles said at the meeting.

A market share analysis found WhidbeyHealth captures only about 24 percent of the market for inpatient services, despite being the only hospital on the island, he said. Outpatient services receive approximately 45 percent.

“These are telltale signs that something’s going on here,” he said. “We have a reputation that’s troubled.”

A common complaint is the amount of time it takes to get an appointment or be seen in the emergency room, Telles said. He hopes the opening of the walk-in clinic in Clinton will hopefully ease some of this pressure because people with life-threatening conditions will have another option.

The new clinic will be open seven days a week and accept all insurance.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said at the meeting that the opening of this kind of clinic has been long-awaited.

Telles added that the hospital district hopes to open a similar facility in Oak Harbor as well.

Adding and keeping providers would also improve access, he said.

WhidbeyHealth currently has more than 65 open positions, he said, and a recent employee survey found only around 25 percent of them felt “engaged.”

“That’s why we’re working and looking inward,” Telles said.

The hospital district’s leaders hope an estimated profit of nearly 3 percent will contribute to improved recruitment and retention. Most of that revenue would go back into salaries and benefits for staff.

Although Telles said the hospital won’t be able to offer as much pay as larger facilities in the region, he hopes he can create an atmosphere where staff feels “valued.”

The organization hired a “transformation specialist” to meet with staff members to help facilitate the culture change and incorporate their input into administrative decisions.

The hospital will also start the process of becoming accredited with an international organization, which Telles said will ideally improve patient trust.

Long term, the leadership hopes to place WhidbeyHealth Medical Center in the top 100 of critical access hospitals.

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