OakBend Medical Center: Joe Freudenberger, CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

The largest full service healthcare facility in Fort Bend County, Texas, opened its doors on January 15, 1950 as the Polly Ryon Memorial Hospital. It is now OakBend Medical Center, a two hospital system with a combined total of 250 beds and a full range of medical services.

“We have been in this community for almost 60 years and have watched our community grow from a population less than 100,000 to 530,000 residents,” says Joe Freudenberger, CEO. “We are one of the fastest growing counties in the United States—third largest, last I checked—and we have tremendous opportunities. We’ve seen a huge increase in the level of interest in Fort Bend County in the last ten years and have three competing acute care facilities in our area.”

The hospital has 250 physicians on staff and 600 employees. They have approximately 2,000 emergency room visits and 550 to 600 admissions per month. The hospital provides a full range of specialty services, including cardiac, and is the only level III trauma center in the county. They also have a dedicated pediatric unit and level II nursery.

Connecting Senior Management and Staff

As a smaller hospital, Freudenberger believes his organization benefits from enhanced connection between management and staff members. “I advocate loudly and frequently that our management team be available to talk with staff. Our employees have great ideas, but if we are never on the floor listening to their ideas, soliciting their ideas, allowing them to be comfortable sharing their ideas with us, then we’ll never farm those ideas and never realize the benefits of those ideas,” he says.

Hiring begins with interviews at multiple levels of the organization. A potential employee does not get in to see the nursing director until he or she has been vetted by those who will be co-workers. A nurse candidate will be interviewed, for instance, by a nurse’s aide, a department secretary, an LPN, and a fellow nurse, as well as the director of the department for which the candidate is being considered.

“If you are approved by all those people, then you will be interviewed by the chief nursing officer,” says Freudenberger. “We are very careful that we get the right person and we spend a lot of time training our directors and our staff on how to interview effectively.”

When a new hire doesn’t work out, they dedicate time to analyzing the indicators that caused them to hire the person so that they do a better job the next time.

Developing Leaders

The second component of OakBend’s employee retention program is about leadership. It’s not enough to make the best nurse a manager. “We strive to actively develop leaders,” Freudenberger says. “We provide settings and situations and training that are directly related to the leadership skills development that we need.”

Directors at OakBend are involved in monthly exercises including discussions of literature on leadership concepts—training, counseling, hiring, firing, and getting feedback. “Every other month we integrate the entirety of our leadership team, including our managerial/charge nurse team—a 60 person group—and we go through concepts that are applicable at all levels,” Freudenberger says. “The managerial/charge nurse teams are the ones dealing with the staff most on the floor. If they are integrated into the process and they are using the tools that we’re developing for ourselves in terms of leadership skills, then we are going to accomplish our goals.”

“Sometimes [improvements] are prompted by an issue that has arisen, but other times it’s an opportunity, an idea of how can we do better,” Freudenberger says. “How can we generate a better turn around time or how can we bring in more business and what will it take. The staff often knows better than anybody else. Visibility, accessibility, and openness to new ideas are keys to the process.”

Capital Direction

As is typical in healthcare, capital dollars at OakBend are being funneled toward IT improvements that will result in electronic medical records, bar code medication administration, and online documentation throughout the facilities.

They also have a major campaign underway to build a heart hospital within the hospital, as well as a joint venture arrangement with a group of orthopedic surgeons to develop an orthopedic surgery center in the community. “We need to be a fairly comprehensive operation,” Freudenberger says. “If a patient looks at us and sees that we can’t treat what is a normal condition, like cancer or cardiac, they aren’t going to want to come to us for an orthopedic injury, for instance.”

The next program the hospital is looking to fully develop is neurosurgery. They already have a neurosurgeon on board and look for this program to complement existing programs.

Serving the Community

The founders of the original hospital were focused on the needs of the community, and today’s OakBend continues to approach hiring and operations with community service in mind.

In short, “if you are not capable of bringing the very best to the table every day then you don’t belong here,” says Freudenberger. “We don’t have the latitude to have a bad day here, because a patient’s life is always in your hands.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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