Owensboro Medical Health System: Dr. Jeff Barber, President & CEO

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The campus of the new Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS) will be more than 100 acres larger than the current 37 acre campus. The construction of the facility is still in its beginning stages, with hard-line drawings and initial site preparation work scheduled for late 2009 and early 2010, and Dr. Jeff Barber, CEO and President of OMHS, is spending the months of September and October sharing the hospital’s visions and plans with the community in a series of open forums.

The current OMHS consists of multiple sites and a 457-bed hospital that operates about 320 beds as the result of maximum staffing ability. The current system is the result of a merger of a community hospital and a private Catholic hospital. The hospital is the sole community provider for Owensboro, as well as providing for a population of about 325,000 in an 11-county area of western Kentucky and southern Indiana. The non-profit healthcare entity has come through some recent, rocky times and plans for the new hospital are a sure sign that a successful turnaround has been achieved.

“Our goal is that the new campus will last for the next 60 to 70 years without needing a lot of change,” says Barber.

From Less than Mediocre to More than Outstanding

In 2002, Barber says that data showed OMHS to be 19% above the national average for the hospital standardized mortality ratio. In short, more people were dying in the institution than were predicted to die according to national averages. The cardiac surgery program was closed in 2004 and the board and medical staff had gone through two votes of no confidence with hospital administration.

When Barber arrived, he says it actually wasn’t difficult to get everyone on board to start making changes. “They weren’t happy with all that was going on,” he says. “We started breaking that data down by specialty area, the nursing floors and everything else we could think of. When they [the board, medical personnel, and staff] make up their minds to get something done and we start partnering and working together—listening to one another—we were able to move faster than probably any large medical center.” Barber’s history is in the Texas Medical Center health system in Houston, so he saw the relatively small and isolated community of OMHS as an opportunity for rapid advances and it seems his expectation for a quick change was accurately predicted.

Changes were driven by employing evidence-based quality and patient safety initiatives. “It’s been almost three years since we’ve had a central line infection in our critical care unit,” says Barber. “It’s almost unheard of. We’ve reduced our ventilator associated pneumonias; this year we’ve had only one. We’ve had only eleven hospital acquired infections this year. These numbers are dramatically low compared to the national average.”

By 2006, OMHS estimated almost 400 lives saved due to the drop in mortality and morbidity rates. Data showed that OMHS numbers had entirely reversed with a drop to 19% below the national average. Fewer people than predicted were dying. Last year the organization was ranked in the top 5% of hospitals nation wide and they now have the number one cardiac program in the state of Kentucky.

Direction for a New and Improved OMHS

“Today our top agenda is building a replacement hospital,” says Barber. They are planning a hospital that will be able to support the community well into the century, designed not only with state-of-the-art facilities in mind, but to accommodate future expansion, as well.

The organization looks forward to efficient and comfortable patient rooms where family members will have space and accommodations and nurses will have convenient access to each patient. The new facility will make a wireless, paperless, and filmless environment a reality, as well as provide a framework for future innovations in information technology.

Design, construction and coordinating teams are all chosen and ready to begin. A 3-D model of the new facility is now available to be viewed online. Barber and his staff are also focused on getting everyone up to speed on process and methodology so that the move to the new facility will be as seamless as possible.

The Future of Healthcare and OMHS

Barber says the questions of healthcare reform are going to be answered by programs that rely on evidence based medicine. “You are not going to be paid for poor quality,” he says. “You are not going to be paid for excessive morbidity and mortality.” His guiding principle is utilizing proven patient safety and quality programs to eliminate costs. He believes in giving his staff tools through training in quality programs and initiatives, but providing motivation is not a factor. Medical staff and people who work in healthcare want good outcomes for their patients and if they provided with the right tools, they will take care of business, according to Barber.

“I’ve been in healthcare for a long time,” Barber says. “And one thing I find that works over and over again is that if you focus on quality and patient safety, you don’t have to worry about the finance part of it. You don’t have to be concerned about your medical staff being on board because they get on board very rapidly. You don’t have to worry about your employees and your workforce being disenchanted because what they are doing is visible and the mortality and morbidity rates drop. You can measure that.”

-by Tracy Million Simmons

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Charles Lauller July 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I love Barber’s quote “if you focus on quality and patient safety, you don’t have to worry about the finance part of it”, more hospital’s should share that philosophy!


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