Feather River Hospital: Wayne Ferch, CEO

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No one can accuse Feather River Hospital of static management. The 101-bed hospital located in Paradise, California has been consistently employing new strategies and equipment in an effort to stay both competitive and profitable. As part of Adventist Health, the hospital employs over 1200 people and boasts $125 million in revenue annually. Wayne Ferch, the hospital’s CEO has been with the organization for almost a decade. Because of strategic planning and efficiency measures, he and the hospital are enjoying a growth period of expansion and strategic improvements, in everything from the facilities to employee performance.

Efficiency That Deserves Recognition

Feather River is using several resources to achieve the best in quality and efficiency. “Long-term, we are using the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award process to constantly evaluate our key processes and to bring best practices from other organizations, including organizations outside of healthcare. “This process has also created a relentless focus on measurement, benchmarking and results” explains Ferch. He says this award’s criteria act a framework for strategic planning and formation of the hospital’s procedures. “We’re aiming for it because that challenges our thinking; it continually forces us to look for blind spots in our processes.” Feather River is no stranger to award recognition however, as they were the recipient of the Gold Award in 2008 from the state of California, the only hospital to receive gold that year and the only the second hospital to win the gold award in California. This award incidentally is based on the Baldrige criteria.

The hospital is investing in utilizing the Lean Thinking/Six Sigma process improvment strategy as a new performance improvement model which has had a very significant impact on the organization. “We are bringing in onsite consultants to train leaders and also invested in training two of our leaders as lean six sigma black belts,” says Ferch. The “black belt” designation represents an individual who is highly trained in these performance improvement processes. The hospital is following suit by reorganizing its quality initiatives so that they fall in line with the Six Sigma process. “Getting everyone on board is a key focus right now. We’ve engaged some experts from a large hospital on the east coast to come here and train our leaders and we’ve launched seven Lean projects with their help, mainly as training tools, but the projects are also projected to cut costs and improve efficiency.”

Expanding Emergency Care

Feather River is currently in the beginning phases of a large construction and expansion project that will completely revamp the hospital’s emergency room and its capabilities. The $30 million construction project is beginning in the spring of 2010 and is slated for completion by mid to late 2011.  When the project is finished it will have turned an ER that was licensed for six beds into a department with 18 private treatment rooms, quadrupling the size of the ER to meet the current demands of the community.

Happy Employees Make For Satisfied Patients

To maintain the hospital’s high standards of quality and patient care, Feather River focuses on a management philosophy that encourages engagement of all employees. “Our workforce is broader than just employees, it consists of suppliers, physicians, volunteers and other support groups; all these groups are engaged and we make sure that they are connected to our mission and values. Our mission is to provide physical, mental and spiritual healing. The spiritual component helps because it makes employees understand that their jobs are not just jobs but opportunities to touch peoples lives in significant ways.” Ferch also believes in an open management style that allows employees to understand the challenges facing the organization. “Physicians have to be treated as partners they need to be involved in our discussions, be involved in our mission.”

The hospital has also significantly revamped its hiring, screening and interviewing process with a three person interview teams and offers online learning and education for all of its employees. “We have been very successful with our turnover rates, we haven’t needed to use agency nurses for years and are proud to have a 4% turnover rate for nurses, as well as a single-digit turnover rate for all employees.” Ferch adds that this success can be attributed to the new human resource initiatives and employee engagement. “If we screen prospective employees well and make certain we are selecting the right people and also make sure that once hired they like working here, then we can enjoy these low turnover rates.

Technology That Sets Feather River Apart from the Crowd

In terms of technological advancements, Feather River isn’t in the habit of playing catch-up. The hospital has enjoyed the benefits of an electronic medical records system for eight years now. This is due in part to Feather River’s parent company, Adventist, who supplied the hospital with the Cerner Millennium electronic medical records system.  “Compared to other free-standing hospitals of our size, we’ve had technology that very few other hospitals would have,” adds Ferch.  A nurse charting system and document scanning system being implemented in 2010 will hopefully eliminate paper records. The hospital has converted all its radiology equipment to digital and is using a  picture archiving and recovery system for radiology films. The hospital has also added an advanced 3D treatment planning software for the radiation oncology center as part of a whole host of technological investments that add up to millions of dollars being invested in IT and infrastructure over the past decade.

Despite the pressures on health care organizations from the economy, government funding and insurance companies, Feather River is determined to remain driven by quality and continually improving. Through programs like Lean Thinking and Six Sigma and strategic improvements in technology and infrastructure the hospital can remain a driving force for the Paradise community for years to come.

-by Jacqueline Rupp

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