Bellflower Medical Centers: Mike Choo, CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Bellflower Medical Center is a 144-bed acute care short-term facility. The Southern California hospital includes an emergency room, behavioral health unit, obstetrics department, and both medical / surgical and ICU units. The hospital serves the community of Bellflower and the surrounding areas, with more than 250 physicians representing more than 15 specialties.

Currently Bellflower is concentrating much of its energy on the obstetrics and labor and delivery units due to the needs of the community. “A lot of the hospitals within a five to ten mile radius have shut their labor and delivery units down, so we are servicing a lot of patients from those facilities,” explains CEO Mike Choo.  The hospital currently serves the communities of Lakewood, Artesia and Bellflower and employs about 500 employees.

Choo has been with the hospital for just a few months and was brought on partly due to his specialty in turnarounds involving staff and financial situations. “There is a deep need in this community to make sure this hospital stays vital. Southern California can’t afford anymore hospitals to shut down. That’s why the opportunity to help this hospital and this community to grow and be a thriving entity for the city of Bellflower was such an appealing prospect. I’m always after a challenge, so whenever you can be part of an organization where you’ve helped them to grow is very rewarding and anyone would want to do it.”

Regrouping for a Stronger Future

With that said, Bellflower is now in a re-vamping and growth mode. “We’re identifying issues, from processes and technologies to business development opportunities and are very committed to growing the hospital in those different facets.” Choo is beginning the transformation at the very foundation of the hospital, evaluating the internal operations and processes that are currently in place and planning out what needs to be done to improve these structural workings. Choo says this is a key to the success of any business. “Before you start developing ventures outside the facility, you need to identify your leaders, your directors, your management all the internal workings of the hospital and improving upon those internal workings before going outside and marketing out. Choo says many health care organizations skip this essential step and focus their efforts prematurely on external issues. “That can be a disaster.” Choo adds that examining employee performance is a key part of this analysis as well. “By identifying the folks here that are doing what they’re doing, you can ensure it’s the right fit, most of the time there are things that have gone on in the hospital operationally that have made them complacent and is getting them out of that state which will hopefully make them innovative.”

One of the challenges that Choo and Bellflower faces is a problem all too common for health care facilities: cost containment. Choo explains that there are three major areas where the hospital needs to focus to control expenditures. The first is expenses relating to state and federal regulation, followed by ensuring government subsidies for indigent care and finally the issues of contracts and the need for continual re-evaluation of those relationships in the pursuit of the best deal.

Although controlling expenditures is always a concern, capital investment is still a priority for the hospital, in particular the upgrading of technology in the facility. “The technology in this facility needs to be upgraded tremendously and I’m doing evaluations i.e. diagnostics and electronic medical records, the company was very interested when I put this on the list.” Being one of four hospitals within a larger corporation helps provide assistance and support there wouldn’t have been on an individual level. “When you have a corporation you are able to get that support. We are focused on just this community but they have a broader focus. It also enables us to have leverage because after all the bigger you are the better you can buy.” One area that is currently being rolled out company-wide is the electronic medical records system, which Choo says will streamline all the hospital’s data and will aid in reviews, and revenue evaluations, which help with the whole revenue cycle and is therefore a top priority.

No Room for Improvement in Quality

And while cost and capital investment are issues for the organization, one area that is thankfully in great shape are the quality programs already present at Bellflower. “In my turnaround background one of the problems that is pretty standard is poor quality programs, but not at Bellflower. This hospital has a phenomenal quality department with a lot of physician input and a staff that stays within guidelines.” Choo adds that this is one key area, which won’t require energy or resources expended on it. “I don’t have to focus on changing the quality initiatives and that’s very fortunate because quality doesn’t happen overnight and here, with nearly 10 different programs in place, this hospital’s programs are some of the best I’ve seen in 20 years.”

Recognizing the Importance of Staff Satisfaction

Choo says there is a good mix of both old and new employees at Bellflower and that’s the way he likes it. “If you can mold and bring new ideas to your current staff, you’re going to find support. Many times, bringing in your own staff can create animosity, so it’s best to have a positive view of the staff you inherit and be ready to work with them, rather than look to bring in a whole new team.” Choo sees staff as one of the most important assets to a hospital and says more hospitals should focus on employee satisfaction than patient satisfaction. “Always remember who your customer is, your customer is not the patient it’s the doctor, they are the ones that bring the patients in, the patient is always a patient, we can never forget that, and a lot of people have forgotten that the doctor is truly the customer. How do you treat a customer? Don’t focus too much on patient care, instead you need to focus on employee satisfaction. If you have happy employees, you will have happy patients therefore your patient satisfaction is going to go up.” Choo adds that too many people focus on patient satisfaction and instead should be focused on making sure they have all the tools to do their jobs and then they can provide the care.

For Choo change doesn’t involve emails and text messages, it revolves around real face-to-face communication and an intense evaluation of practices. “We provide services where others don’t provide services and have shut down, we’re not perfect but we’re getting to expert care.” Choo says that human connection is important in all matters, from meetings that are purpose driven, to patient care and even to networking opportunities.

”Business is built on relationships and most relationships are built after hours, friends bring friends business. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into establishing these types of relationships, but if you think of that concept there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Labranche April 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm

If you want to work with a man of integrity, work with Michael Choo. Wherever Mr. Choo is involved, you’ll find an ethical medical practice.

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Anthony jones August 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I totally agree with kathleen’s comment, I had the pleasure of working with him Shreveport, Louisiana. One hell of a CEO and a great person!!!!!!!

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