Bluewater Health: Sue Denomy, President & CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Success at Bluewater Health in Sarnia, Ontario, is described with one word: consolidation.  That’s how acting President/CEO Sue Denomy explains how this healthcare organization produced a balanced budget for 2007 and sees a future full of expansion of space and enhancement of patient care by partnering with like-minded service providers within the community.

“Last year was the first year in seven years that we were able to achieve a balanced budget,” Denomy said.  “Having gone through a number of years of finding ways to get that budget balanced has taken a significant toll on our organization.  This is a new way of thinking for us.”

Bluewater is comprised of three hospital corporations that came together in 2003 and organized under a single corporation to serve a population base of about 130,000; two of those hospitals are located in Sarnia, the third organization, located about 20 miles away, is a smaller, rural hospital.  The 320-bed organization has a staff of about 1,700, employees 100 credentialed physicians, is served by about 800 volunteers and operates on a current budget of $146 million when you factor in all funding sources.

Strategy for a Balanced Budget

This is where consolidation played a role for Denomy.  She and her staff considered services provided at Bluewater Health that were better offered in the community and looked at ways to move them into the community.  Part of that process included convincing the public that moving some services to facilities outside the hospital did not mean a reduction in patient care.  “There is occasionally some consternation in terms of the public’s reaction to some of those transitions,” she said.

Bluewater Health’s newfound financial standing has placed the organization in a position to partner with neighboring hospital corporations to look for ways to introduce some best practices into the organization.  One example of how sharing resources is beneficial to the organization is in the area of recruitment, Denomy said.  Bluewater Health’s greatest recruitment need is in the area of general family medicine, she said.  The organization is also working with a large teaching center nearby for partnering on diagnostic imaging and PACS electronic health records.

“We’re working with our partnership hospitals within the area to look for ways we can share resources to share decision-making and to share some very scarce staff skills,” she said.  “Those are the areas we have looked at to date and there are more opportunities as we move forward.”

Another area for sharing at Bluewater Health is supply costs.  One initiative, as an example, has the organization working with four other hospitals in the region to look at a shared supply chain managed by functionality and service.

Expansion

Bluewater Health has embarked on a “significant” five-year construction project that involves building a new faciltiy of about 350,000 sq. ft. and renovating space of equal size.  EllisDon Corp. mobilized onto the site in mid-October, and work has been underway since that time.  Once the new facility is finished, it will be completely integrated with the current hospital building and allow all Sarnia hospital programs and services to be consolidated onto one single site.

“This will be a major reenergizing for the community and for our organization as we have been working on two Sites as one organization for over a decade now,” Denomy said.  “However, the consolidated facility will support our staff and doctors to provide seamless hospital care.”

On paper, this construction project consolidates buildings.  However, the results go much deeper for Denomy.

“It will certainly provide the staff with the energy and the focus, with state-of-the-art technology in state-of-the-art space, so that they can really focus on improving the quality of care,” she said.  “It really stimulates a new way of thinking.”

Organization Goals

Most recently, Bluewater Health has been working through recommendations made by a Ministry of Health investigator that provided some areas that need addressing as the organization moves forward.  Denomy said the focus is on quality and safe patient care, a healthy workplace, a respectful and safe work environment for employees and for staff physicians, and a strong financial base.

“We set up standards of excellence a few years ago and we promote those throughout the organization,” she said.  “We’ll probably look at a way to refocus those a little bit, just so there is a little bit more staff ownership.”

Challenges

An ongoing challenge for Bluewater Health involves improving processes for patients, to reduce their hospital stay, to reduce their wait time, to improve their access to services, and to reduce their time in and out of the hospital.  The goal is for patients coming to one of Bluewater Health’s sites for an outpatient service to pass through the system in a more efficient manner.

To ease this process, Bluewater Health established a “Flow Collaborative” team that works with the local integrated health network and hospitals to look at where patients could avoid an admission by accessing other services.  Some programs allow patients to receive outpatient services while still in the hospital, easing the transition to home care.

Another challenge is in the area of technology adoption.  The introduction of new information technology, designed to improve services, is often derailed, Denomy said.  “It is the introduction of that information technology that is always a challenge because everybody is extremely knowledgeable as far as the database in which they work and then to bring some of those initiatives together causes some discomfort,” she said.

Initiatives for Success

Denomy said partnering with community services that are within the continuum of care is key to improving quality of care.  Bluewater Health seeks partnerships with local healthcare networks in terms of patient throughput, beginning with supporting patients as they present through the emergency department, to avoid an admission, all the way through supporting a patient through an early discharge.  In addition, the organization supports a patient from an acute-care case through an “end-of-life” stage so that they can be at home with their families.

“An executive needs to partner with the regional hospitals,” she said.  “There are many activities we do that are identical.”

Program Efficiencies

Supply management is an area where Bluewater Health has improved efficiencies, and Denomy sees an opportunity for technology to play a role in continuing that process.  She sees a day where hospitals incorporate similar scanning methods to those used with products in grocery stores that reply on barcoded information to keep track of inventories.  This would enable hospitals to reduce the need for supply storage space, while still maintaining adequate supply levels in case of an emergency.

Bluewater Health’s Opportunity

With Bluewater Health’s stable history, combined with lessons learned through some instability due to changes within the organization, Denomy sees an opportunity to rise to the top in the area of healthcare.

“There’s really an opportunity for us to be a leader in our area and a leader in providing quality patient care for our region,” she said.

-by Kathy Knaub-Hardy

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