St. Joseph

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Starting with its founding by the Sisters of Mercy 115 years ago in Phoenix Arizona, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has evolved into a destination hospital, serving patients close to home and thousands from around the world who come annually for the hospital’s highly specialized care.

“We have an incredible organization with a long history, yet continue to reinvent ourselves and invest in the people who make St. Joseph’s special,” said CEO and President Linda Hunt. “We have set out to become a destination facility, a destination where patients, physicians and health plans believe we are the best place to send patients with special types of needs. Part of our mission is to not only improve the health of this community but to advocate for the poor and the underserved.”

St. Joseph’s is home of Barrow Neurological Institute and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center .  Besides neurology, the hospital’s specialties include cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, gynecological, high-risk obstetrics. In addition, for many years the hospital operated the only Level I trauma center in the state.

St. Joseph’s is a 670-bed, non-profit hospital that is one of 40 hospitals that make up Catholic Healthcare West CHW, one of the largest healthcare systems in the west, covering Arizona, California and Nevada.. Hunt, who has served as president of St. Joseph’s for almost 10 years, is also regional president for all CHW entities in Arizona.

In addition to serving patients, St. Joseph’s is an academic medical center with a large medical education program that includes 200 graduate medical residents from 10 different residencies, as well as a substantial research component, Hunt said. As part of this aspect of the hospital, CHW has an agreement with the Creighton University School of Medicine and is currently going through the process of becoming a regional medical campus for the university.  The hospital is also a reseach hub where more than 45 full time scientists do basic and clinical research.  On average, there are more than 400 clinical trials underway at any time.

While other medical organizations also provide specialty care, it’s the organization’s history of care that Hunt feels differentiates them from other medical facilities in the area.

“When you talk about the culture and the values at St. Joseph’s, you find that those aspects are part of everyone here, from the administrative level to the staff level,” she said. “It’s important that our patients feel that they have come to a place of caring, not only physical caring but spiritual caring as well.”

Operational Priorities

Considering the effects of a budget crisis in Arizona, along with issues of unemployment and housing, CHW two years ago started a ministry transformation and strategic planning process called “Transformational Care.” In addition, the organization implemented the Lean Process, examining ways to improve patient flow and optimize the patient experience.

“It’s about continued improvement,” Hunt said.

The Lean Process was implemented after what Hunt called “major budget shortfalls” at St. Joseph’s. During an employee forum, staff members introduced ideas for saving money – $5,000 here and $5,000 there – eventually totaling $60 million.

“We came up with creative ways to remove excess from our organization, and it was really driven by the staff,” Hunt said. “They gave us ideas and we kept them abreast as to what they were implementing. These efforts resulted in a reduction of existing budget shortfalls from being $18 million behind to just $2 million behind.”

Capital Expenditures

The Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s is consistently ranked as one of the top neuro centers in the world.  The hospital constructed a new neuroscience tower three years ago. The organization sees this expenditure as not only improving care for today but aiding in earlier diagnosis, personalized medicine, genetics and genetic testing. In addition, the hospital is scheduled to launch the Center for Adaptive Brain Function, which will bring more advanced diagnosis for brain tumors as well as aid in the study of surgical and stimulation ways to treat depression and other behavioral issues.

“All of those types of things are a result of incredibly intelligent physicians working alongside researchers and moving the technology forward,” she said.

Within CHW, the organization is launching a new integrated information system, in addition to an electronic health record system for physicians. Hunt adds that they have the ability to create a comprehensive network that would allow for population management and handling chronic illness.

“We’re building that continuum, that integrated network to deliver what we think is going to be the future care for everything we’re going through,” she said.

Technology Partner

St. Joseph’s serves as a GE Imaging Research Center, where in-house physicians and scientists, along with engineers from Arizona State University, work with GE engineers to look at the next-generation of imaging in MRI and CT. Together they’re working on innovations that would allow for faster imaging with reduced radiation. This makes it easier and safer for patients to undergo vital imaging procedures, Hunt said.

Workplace Environment

Known for its culture of “employees helping each other,” St. Joseph’s has been selected as one of the best places to work in Phoenix for the past six years, Hunt said. In addition, in 2009, the hospital was selected as one of Modern Healthcare’s Top 100 Best Places to Work in Healthcare. Some of the features employees benefit from includes educational opportunities, scholarships and stipends for continuing education and programs that examine new employees skill sets to determine where they can best utilize their expertise within the organization.

Hospital administrators reach out to staff members in a number of ways, Hunt said, but one method in particular reaches their stomachs as well as their minds. Leadership personnel make regular “coffee cart rounds,” going throughout the hospital at all hours of the day and night, handing out donuts and coffee while at the same time sharing information about what’s going on at the hospital.

“Because of the type of organization we are, we conduct a lot of continuing education, both from a physician and a staff standpoint, on the topic of how we can communicate better and work better as a team,” she said.

Open communication is definitely a two-way street at St. Joseph’s, and occurs at all levels. Physicians can speak through a council comprised of 14 of their medical peers, using the group as a conduit for sharing issues with the hospital’s leadership team. Hunt believes that this, as well as other communication efforts, makes employees feel important.

“They have as much say regarding the solution to a problem as anyone else in the organization,” she said. “Staff at St. Joseph’s feels comfortable working with leadership to resolve problems. I love to have their input. I love it when they disagree because many times we’ve not thought of something and we go back and fix it.”

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