Capital Health: Larry DiSanto, EVP

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Located in New Jersey’s capital of Trenton is the two-facility, 589-bed, acute-care, teaching hospital called Capital Health. The hospital is the result of the 1997 merger of the Helene Fuld and Mercer Medical Centers. Both hospitals have histories dating back to the 1880s. Capital Health employs nearly 3,300 people and has an annual revenue of more than 400 million dollars.

Keys to a Successful Merger

Larry DiSanto, Executive Vice President in charge of all operations at Capital Health says the first couple of years of the merger were a bit rocky. “There were a lot of skeptics out there thinking that this merger would not work because of culture differences within the organizations and the financial issues we were facing at the time,” he says. In a very short time, however, the company began to take shape as one of the region’s largest employers and a leading healthcare provider.

“We had great leadership at the time and senior members of the medical staff actually came together as one entity a month before the closing of the merger. Working out the new bylaws was not easy, but people were willing to put in many, many hours in order to get it done.” The process was more than one of mere loose affiliations. The boards of the two hospitals merged, as well as all financial and accounting systems. The new logo even combined the two original company logos. By the end of 1997, everyone formerly employed by either Mercer or Helene Fuld became a Capital Health employee. No jobs were cut during the merger.

Financially, the hospital is now one of the top performers in New Jersey.

A New Hospital

In response to the trend of declining population in its historical service area and the growth of population in outlying areas, Capital Health opened a 46,000 square foot ambulatory care center four years ago in Hamilton Township.  The facility provides imaging, a lab, and ambulatory surgery services as well as a variety of primary and specialty care physicians practices.

The center has been so successful that hospital leadership began looking at the option of moving one of the Capital Health campuses to an outlying township, as well. “We came to the realization that we could probably assure the long term financial stability of the Capital Health by diversifying our payer mix at a suburban hospital campus and still maintain one inner city campus,” says DiSanto.

Both hospitals are in currently located in Trenton so Capital Health has a significant number of uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid patients. By increasing their draw from the surrounding suburban communities, DiSanto says the hospital will be able to assure its long-term financial viability.  Capital Health has secured 160 acres in nearby Hopewell Township to build a new hospital that will replace the current Mercer campus. The Federal Housing Administration recently agreed to insure Capital’s debt offering.  This led to successful closing on the $756 million dollar loan which is the largest single transaction in FHA’s 75 year history.

Designing the new hospital has proven to be an on-going challenge requiring flexibility and adaptability. “Sizing out the departments was one of the initial challenges, and once that was done we started to design the hospital, deciding where departments should be in proximity to each other and where they will be the most efficient,” says DiSanto, “As changes come up, it kind of has a ripple effect throughout the building, so you want to minimize the changes. On the other hand you certainly don’t want to build a brand new hospital and not incorporate the latest in technology.”

Even in the four years since they began the planning and design process for the new hospital, technology and needs have changed. The size of their operating rooms have changed, for instance, since the initial design drafts in 2004 due to new equipment being incorporated into the rooms that wasn’t available four years ago.

One focus in the new hospital’s design has been easy expansion.  The all private room facility will initially have 223 beds.  It is being constructed so that new patient towers can be added in the future with little interference to current operations.  DiSanto anticipates that the hospital will grow to around 500 beds n time.  The private rooms are all designed to maximize the amount of natural light available which has shown to be good for patient outcomes, as well as saving the hospital by having to install less artificial light.

Another feature of the new hospital is the incorporation of a large medical office building on the premises. Physicians will be able to buy or rent offices on floors corresponding to their specialties. A walk-way between the medical office building and the hospital will make it convenient and efficient for those physicians to make hospital calls to their patients and maintain office hours without extra time for travel.

Expanding in Trenton as Well

While planning the new hospital, Capital Health has pumped nearly 40 million dollars into Helene Fuld, the campus that will remain in Trenton, New Jersey. “Our objective is to make the Fuld Campus of Capital Health a tertiary service medical center,” says DiSanto. The Fuld Campus has been a level two trauma center for ten years. It has achieved stroke designation and they are working toward higher levels of certification in the stroke area. They’ve also recently added a comprehensive neuroscience program.

The Mercer Campus has been the Regional Perinatal Center for more than fifteen years. It has comprehensive, high quality services in Maternal/Child Health starting with a Pediatric Express emergency department staffed with pediatricians. Because Capital Health has the only Obstetrics program left in the city of Trenton, part of the agreement to the relocation of the Mercer Campus was that the Maternity and Obstetric service would be moved to the Fuld Campus.  There will be maternity services provided at the new hospital, as well.

“Programs at one campus complement the other,” says DiSanto. “Currently, we are only a mile and a half apart, not a great geographic distance. Both have very busy emergency departments and critical care units, but services are not generally duplicative.” The new hospital is going to be six miles from the campus in the city. “Not all that far for management control and patients will have the choice of where they want to go with their physicians,” says DiSanto.

The new hospital is slated to be completed in 2011. After only eleven years as a combined entity, the organization might still be considered in its beginning stages. The trend and accomplishments, thus far, suggest success that will reach well into the future.

-by Tracy Million Simmons

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